Saturday, January 27, 2018

4 Epiphany Yr B Jan 28 2018

Remember last week I described the gospel of Mark like a roller coaster ride, and we just keep going. No time to process any of this. This healing and casting our unclean spirits is the first thing Jesus does in this gospel. The first thing Jesus does is free this man from the hold of his unclean spirit and restore him to himself, his loved ones, and his community. The very first thing.

And Mark doesn't mince words. We want Jesus to teach with words, the other gospels are full of words. They try to explain the parables, the healings, the miracles. But not Mark. Mark shows us who Jesus is through healings, through presence, through action. In Mark, Jesus teaches by what he does.

We know that Mark's gospel begins with “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” It then goes on to show us what this Son of God looks like. The Son of God is baptized in the Jordan, and a voice came from heaven and says, “You are my son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” The Son of God is cast out into the wilderness and battles Satan. The Son of God calls Simon and Andrew, James and John, who left everything to follow him. The Son of God was in the habit of going to the synagogue on the Sabbath. He was also in the habit of breaking many of the rules of the Sabbath. The Son of God taught with authority. All of this is what the Son of God looks like, but Jesus’ authority is before us today.

Robert Browning, the English poet, once said, “If the most powerful people in the world came into this room, the King, the President, we would stand up. But if Jesus came in, we would kneel down, and that’s the difference.” We could add to Robert Browning’s list of powerful people, the kind of people today that are lifted up as powerful sports stars, movie, television or music stars. Maybe even today’s billionaires would make this list, people like Warren Buffet or Bill Gates. Well, today’s gospel is about is what the Son of God looks like, and the Son of God has authority, and that authority looks nothing like those who think they have authority today. And in our collective lives very recently, we have spoken much about kneeling and standing and what that all means.

The authority that Jesus, the Son of God is, is authority that brings us to our knees.

In this gospel story, Jesus’ authority creates something that no one had ever experienced before Jesus. Jesus’ authority creates healing. Today I think we experience authority as power, power to buy and consume and have. Power to tell others what to do, what to believe. The scribes, who were the educated and literate people, had never before experienced the kind of authority that is shown to us in this lesson; we only encounter this kind of authority when we encounter Jesus.
What kind of authority is this? What does this authority look like? Authority is who Jesus is, it is not something that Jesus possesses, or something that Jesus owns, not even what Jesus says. True authority, authentic authority, is not derived from power but from trust and respect and relationship. True authority does not control, it authors. Authority comes from the same word as author. It is a word that indicates something or someone that creates, something or someone that causes an increase, something or someone that causes growth.

This authority is quite different from power. Power, in the Mediterranean world, as well as in our own world, is understood as a limited quantity. If one person has more power, then the other has less. In the Mediterranean world, honor was also a limited quantity. The honoring of one resulted in the shaming of another. Power and honor are linked in the Mediterranean world of Jesus’ time, as they are linked in our culture as well.

What the scribes noticed immediately in this story is that Jesus speaks with an as-yet-unheard-of level of authority. Suddenly the years of compounded knowledge, confined logic and entrenched tradition offered by the scribes begins to pale in comparison to the message that Jesus brings, Love wins. When Jesus was around, something was created, something was increased, growth was happening, the story was being rewritten. Scribes were “because it has always been that way” theologians, that is to say the kind of theology that is built on its past and nothing new really comes about. But things were definitely not the same any more.

It is in this new reality that people began to see that this must be God’s work, because it is only God who can author this new story. There is only one God, one Lord, and neither you nor I are it, or anyone who has earthly power. What this passage says to us is that this new thing that Jesus does, as God in our midst, is to signal that Jesus has come to oppose all the forces that keep the children of God, and that is all of us, from the abundant life God desires for all of us. And that message matters because it is still the case: God wants the most for us from this life and stands in opposition to anything that robs us of the joy and community and purpose for which we were created.

And what is the purpose for which we are created? To love God with all our heart and mind and soul, and to love our neighbor. This is the abundant life that God promises. The release of this unclean spirit by Jesus’ authority shows us that. And as the first thing Jesus does in Mark’s telling of this story, it shows us that God’s love for us, through Jesus’ authority, releases us from the bondage of power, and creates in us love for neighbor, love for the unlovable, love for the least of these.

I believe that as followers of Jesus, it is part of our work, our ministry, to step into the places God calls us and be the bearer of healing, be the bearer of God’s good news of love, be the bearer of the light of Jesus. Because, as you all well know, love wins.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

3 Epiphany Yr B Jan 21 2018

We have been hearing stories for the last couple of weeks, stories that remind us that God loves us, that we are the delight of God's life. Stories of baptism, God claims us, and we are marked as God's own forever. God calls us, God shows up with us and for us. God calls us wonderfully and fearfully made. 

In the gospel of Mark, there is no pussy-footing around. There is no nativity story as there is in Luke, there are no begats like in Matthew, and no soaring language like in John. No, Mark gets right to the point. In the first sentences the writer says, this is about the Good News, who is Jesus the Messiah. John announced Jesus, Jesus is baptized, and the next thing you know Jesus is calling disciples. Hardly enough time to get strapped in before we hit the first 200 foot climb followed by a one second drop. Mark gets down to business.

It's not much different for these fisher people. Just imagine this. Just imagine being in that fishing boat with Simon and Andrew, with James and John, having fished all night. You're exhausted, and you must fix the holes in your nets before you can call it a day. You just want to get the work finished, take your haul home, and go to bed. And Jesus passes by. He yells from the shore, "Follow me and I will make you fish for people." Who is this guy? How can you make a living fishing for people? How's that going to pay the bills? How's that going to put food on the table? How's that going to bring any honor to the family? This is just crazy. And yet you go. And yet you step out of the boat and follow. What is so compelling about this man that causes you to leave your father, to leave your livelihood, to leave your honor, and follow. 

Mark doesn't give us a whole lot of clues about what is so compelling about this man Jesus, except to tell us that this is the Good News of Jesus, the Messiah. Jesus is the truth, Jesus speaks the truth, Jesus knows your truth. And that is compelling. And when you say yes to the call, you don't really know what to expect, except that your life will be change forever. When you say yes to the call, Love wins, mercy prevails, compassion lives. 

Because that is the way it is with Jesus, it isn't easy, comfortable, or clear. So what does saying yes to the call look like? It looks like a guy who walks to the other side of the road to help someone who had been attacked by strangers. It looks like a woman who gives a man a cool drink of water at the well. It looks like the soil that is rocky, that is thorny, and that is fertile. It looks like the tiniest of seeds. 

Being perfect, or even having our act together, is not a prerequisite to saying yes to Jesus' call. Remember the Old Testament story that is before us today from Jonah. What we heard is the conclusion of God calling Jonah. The beginning of that story goes like this. The word of the Lord came to Jonah, "Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me." But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord. Jonah's response to God's call was to turn tail and run. Not unlike most of us when we hear God's call. Jonah ran from God until he could run no further, Jonah said no to God for as long as he could. The result of Jonah's eventual yes, was that everyone turned away from their evil ways; maybe in other words, they turned toward mercy and compassion. That is what it looks like to repent.

Saying yes to Jesus' call is what frees us to be who we are, and to live the truth of who we are, beloved and forgiven. I think the reason people say no to God, and say no to church, is because of the mistaken belief that you have to be perfect to stand before God and others. I think the reason that has happened is because some who call themselves Christian have set up some sort of perfection checklist, some sort of standard of behavior that no one can live up to, and everyone begins to live a lie. 

Saying yes to Jesus is to say yes to the truth; the truth of who we are. We are people who are broken; we are people who make mistakes, some huge mistakes, some not so much. We are people who betray. We are people who love and who fall short of love. We are people who get ourselves into trouble with wanting too much and expecting too little. We are people who believe we can make it on our own and forget we are not the center of the universe. We are people who erect and worship idols. We are people who build walls around us so thick to guard our brokeness and to look perfect. 

Saying yes to Jesus, saying yes to the truth, looks like the guy who spent some time in jail, and who can listen to others trying to find their way. It looks like the mom who struggled to live through addiction, and who can listen to other moms who are so afraid to face up to their own lies. It looks like couples that work through the depths of sadness, recommit to each other, and listen to those who can't see the possibility. It is each and every one of us knowing we are just inches away from losing our job, or losing our home, or losing our spouse, and living in the midst of hope and joy anyway, because Jesus lived it all too.

Saying yes to Jesus is to say yes to the truth. And the truth will set you free. Saying yes to Jesus is to let love win, it is to let the mercy and the compassion seep into our scars and heal us. It is to let love win and let the mercy and the compassion transform us. When you say yes, your life begins to change, you are in the presence of God, and your truth begins to invite others into healing. Jesus' truth, your truth, your life in God's presence invites others to live a live fully alive, a live filled with truth, with love, with mercy and compassion. Your life begins to show forth the moral decision making that is apparent in the baptismal covenant. You begin to do what is right, instead of what is selfish or greedy. You bear Jesus' light in the world, and those you encounter, those who encounter you, witness the truth of your life and are invited to be healed by Jesus. Come and see. 

Studies are showing that people today and especially those under 50 don't so much want to GO to church as they want to BE the church.  I'm wondering how we can empower one another, as we go to church, to be able to live out our calling as we seek to be the church. How do you live out your calling, out there in the world? At work, at school, at play. That is being the church. As you do that, more and more, as you make the invitation into Love, others will come, you will see.

"The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." Frederick Buechner. 

Saturday, January 13, 2018

2 Epiphany Yr B Jan 14 2018

This week in these readings about Eli and Samuel, in the psalm, and in John's story of calling the disciples, we are reminded that God already knows us, God already knows you, God claims us, God loves us first.

Have you found Jesus? Is a question that is asked in certain circles. I believe we are mistaken when we think we need to find Jesus. Like Jesus is playing a game of hide and seek with us, and he's been behind the couch all along. "Lord, you have searched me out and known me, you know my sitting down and my rising up, you discern my thoughts from afar," psalm 139 reminds us. We don't need to find Jesus, Jesus calls us, indeed we need to be of a heart and a mind and a posture to listen. We spend so much time and energy building our own walls, surrounding ourselves with such noise, that we cannot hear God’s call, and we are blinded to Jesus who shows up. We build walls that alienate and isolate ourselves from the love that claims our hearts.

The litany is endless.
You've heard it, you've said it, you've experienced it. There's the I'm not going to church list. I've got better things to do, I don't have time, It's the only time we have together as a family, I'd rather drink coffee, read the paper, look at facebook, I don't like the music they sing there, I don't like the prayers they say there, I don't like the people there, they're hypocrites, I don't like the style of worship there, I don't like the priest there. There's nobody like me there, everybody is like me there. There's no kids there, there's too many kids there, the kids there make noise.

There's the I'm spiritual but not religious list. I don't need organized religion, I can worship God on my own, at home, in nature, on the golf course.

There's the I don't believe in God list. That God is violent, punishing. I can't believe in a God who takes innocent lives, I can't believe in a God who causes suffering. I can't believe in a God who doesn't take all of this pain and suffering away. 

And then there's the I'm not good enough list. I've done something so horrible God would not want me, I'm guilty of something, I'm not worthy, I'm no good. And a related list, the I'm too good for them list. They don't believe what I believe, that doesn't fulfill my needs, I don't like that music. 

And, there is the fear. If I really listen, I might have to do something about it. And that, my friends is where it really is, isn't it? Listening and responding to God's call, God's claim on our hearts, is scary. It means that we go outside of what is comfortable, it means that we take risks with our hearts, and maybe even our lives. But, 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. In a society where racism and misogyny are becoming normalized, we have the privilege of being witnesses to the dignity and respect for all God’s people in all parts of God’s creation. In families torn apart by the drive for more, and bigger, and better, we have the privilege of being living signs of a love that can lift up the lowly and bring down the mighty.  

The truth is that it is God's hearts desire for us to be in relationship with God, and any relationship takes work, it takes listening, it takes learning, it takes responding. Around here we believe that God loves, we believe that love shows up in Jesus, and in you and in all of us. But, love is just a word until someone gives it meaning, Jesus is the meaning, you are the meaning, you are the hands and feet of this love.

So we listen to God's call, and we discern God's call to us. We put aside all the excuses, all the reasons why not. We put aside our fear, and we respond. We do as the disciples did, we do as Eli and Samuel did, we listen together, in community, with each other, not alone. We listen together, and we respond. But we don't necessarily all respond in the same way, because part of our job is to be who we are, fully and completely. Our response to God’s amazing, abundant, and unconditional love, is the way we live our lives, the love and compassion and mercy that we offer to others. 

How do you live your response to God's claim on your life? How do you live your response to God's call to you? How do we, here at Trinity live our common life together, in response to God's call? How do you, how do we, show up and show forth the light, and the love, the suffering and the death, the hope, that is the truth of this life? 

This week we remember Martin Luther King Jr. a man who responded with courage to God's claim on his life. Martin Luther King Jr. showed us that dreams are made of treating every bit of God's creation, every color of God’s creation, every place on this earth, with mercy, compassion, and justice. 

Sometimes the violence and the tragedy in our world, in our community seems overwhelming. Sometimes the rhetoric is so crazy we cannot even believe it came out of someone’s mouth. Sometimes we even just stop paying attention. In these turbulent days, respecting the dignity of every human being seems to be in question, seeking and serving Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself seem foolish. But we've also seen how love can change a situation, we've seen how a kind word, a compassionate act, can change the reality in which we live. 

I heard a story, about a boy who responded to some teasing that was inflicted on him, not by being mean. Instead, he got to school early, and stood at the front door, holding it open as the students entered, greeting each one with a good morning. Soon, the students were greeting each other with smiles and hellos. Soon, the students were opening doors for each other all over the building. Soon the culture of the student body was changing. 

Respond to God's claim on your heart and your life by opening doors for those around you, and you too, will change the world. Respond to God’s claim on your heart and your life by standing up compassion. Have courage, do not be afraid, listen, show up and show forth God's love. Amen.  

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Feast of the Epiphany

Then God said, “Let there be light”;  and there was light.
And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.
Indeed, you are my lamp, O Lord, the Lord lightens my darkness.
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light,
your word is a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.

There are 335 instances of the use of light in the bible.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
“There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in.” ― Leonard Cohen.
“We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.” - Madeleine L’engle.
All the great people know and write about the Light that enlightens the world.

One of the reasons I love to go outside and walk in the morning is to experience the sunrise. Now, for those of you who are already worried about me going outside in the cold and dark of the winter, I will reassure you that I don’t go out in this weather anymore. As our earth rotates, and the light of the sun gradually sneaks over the horizon, I am reminded of the gift of light. A few years ago, during the summer of 2013, we were in Flåm, Norway. There was no darkness then, just amazing light all through the night. Close your eyes for a moment, sitting in this darkness, picture your light. Find your sunrise, your midnight sun; the time you gave thanks for the sun breaking out of the clouds and over the horizon; the time that your darkness was taken over by the light. The light that shines in the darkness, the light that drives out darkness.

This light reminds me of the light that is so lovely I want with all my heart to know the source of it. This light breaks into my world, my life, just like Jesus breaks into our world, our lives.

These travelers from the east, bearing exotic, luxurious gifts fit for a king, follow the light that shows them the one who breaks into our world bringing the light, the joy beyond imagining, sought and found by all, present now in our midst.  They come following the light, bearing gifts for the one who is the light of the world. Epiphany means a manifestation – a discovery, a showing, bringing into the light of day, seeing plainly. In the helpless child in his mother’s arms, they saw the Messiah: a powerful moment of epiphany. And now their dream shows them something else. It is a little epiphany, a way of seeing that everything is not as it seems: that there is another level of truth, and a different way home.

The light shines in the darkness, and reveals the truth that some wish would remain hidden. The truth that hiding in the darkness is not an option. The light has shone, the light will shine, the light will not be put out. We see this again during Holy Week, before Easter. All the principalities and powers would pull the wool over our eyes, would have us believe that darkness reigns, but not with this God, this force. The light shines, love wins.

And these wise people who traveled great distances to offer their gifts to the newborn Christ-child were responding to the gift first given to them. They received God’s gift, then offered their gifts to God. As we commemorate the arrival of these wise people and remember their offerings, we delight in this paper reminder that symbolizes God’s generosity, God’s light, in our lives.
This is your gift. This is a gift of light, it is a gift of life. Receive it. It reminds us that this is always the order of things in God’s realm—God always gives first, and then we are invited to respond with our gifts and ourselves. Take a moment to read it.

I invite you to let this gift light your way this year. Maybe this gift becomes your intention this year. And maybe this gift opens up a new way home. A way through the madness; a way through the dark; a way around the pitfalls. Always remembering that This light shines in the darkness, this gift is love, and even though we go home by another way, it’s never easy.

And today I’ll leave you with the words from a favorite song and a favorite artist, Home by another way, by James Taylor.

Those magic men the Magi
Some people call them wise
Or Oriental, even kings
Well anyway, those guys
They visited with Jesus
They sure enjoyed their stay
Then warned in a dream of King Herod's scheme
They went home by another way

Yes they went home by another way
Home by another way
Maybe me and you can be wise guys too
And go home by another way
We can make it another way
Safe home as they used to say
Keep a weather eye to the chart on high
And go home another way

Steer clear of royal welcomes
Avoid a big to-do
A king who would slaughter the innocents
Will not cut a deal for you
He really, really wants those presents
He'll comb your camel's fur
Until his boys announce they've found trace amounts
Of your frankincense, gold and myrrh

Time to go home by another way
Home by another way
You have to figure the Gods saying play the odds
And go home by another way
We can make it another way
Safe home as they used to say
Keep a weather eye to the chart on high
And go home another way

Safe home.

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost Yr A Proper 9 July 5 2020

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