Saturday, April 28, 2018

5 Easter Yr B April 29 2018



5 Easter Yr B April 29 2018 Audio

We have had one long winter haven’t we? Our grass is finally turning green, and the roses are coming to life in our garden. I await with baited breath and wild anticipation for the lilacs delighting the senses, we may actually celebrate this rite of spring. All winter long I yearn for the warmth and the smell of the dirt as we dig and play in it. All winter long we give thanks for the moisture that comes our way, knowing that it's falling from the sky results in new growth. Even when spring comes late, we are out planting, hoping against hope that there is no more frost to bring our work to naught, but secretly thinking it really doesn't matter because it's just a wonderful excuse to be outside and not inside. 

Before us today is a passage we all know well. I'll read it again in Eugene Peterson's translation, The Message. "I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn't bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken. Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can't bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can't bear fruit unless you are joined with me. I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you're joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can't produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples." 

The gospel of John is rich with metaphor, ripe with meaning. At the very least, this is a passage about growth and grapes, but it also tells us something of how to live, and it is very much about following Jesus. In our collection of readings this morning it is coupled with 1 John, God is love, and we, followers of Jesus, must love our brothers and our sisters. Eugene Peterson translates, live in me, make your home in me, which I find very helpful. Other translations use abide in me, and remain in me. All of these invoke intimacy and connection. God, the farmer, God the vine-grower, God the gardener, wants us, each one of us and all of us to remain connected to our source, to our creator, and in doing so, we not only grow but we bear fruit. The image is to remain connected to the vine, it doesn't say, in any of the translations, that we are to connect ourselves to the vine. Our organic and natural state is connection. 

The vines that fall away are gathered together and thrown into the bonfire. Apart from the vine, our lives result in disconnection, disorientation, disintegration. It's a beautiful image, the farmer caring for the vine and the grapes, a pastoral image that maybe some can't imagine in this time of immediacy, in this age of instant results. I was wondering about an image that could possibly be similar today, and I think of your computer, or my iPad, devices that give us instant communication and fast results, but that don't work unless sometimes we connect them into the power source to be re-enlivened. They really would just be typewriters on steroids without the Internet and the world wide web that connects us to people and information all over the known world. Even Facebook and all the other social media portals would be nothing if it were not for all the others we get connected to. Are they life giving? That question remains to be answered, but for matters of metaphor they'll do. 

And to what end are we given this illustration, this tangly vine metaphor that John uses? It is about being disciples, it is about following Jesus, it is about loving our brothers and our sisters. The point is to bear fruit, and in bearing fruit, God is glorified and we are disciples. To be a disciple is to follow Jesus. It really is as simple as that; we try to make it so much harder. We get so caught up in semantics sometimes, you and I sometimes even bristle at the word Christian, because it means one thing to some, and another thing to others. You and I and all of us together follow Jesus. That is what we are to do, as we follow Jesus we bear fruit, and we glorify God. 

So what does this call to bearing fruit look like? Picture a vine laden with grapes, so heavy it pulls itself to the ground if not held up by some sort of trellis. So heavy with grapes they can't help but spill over onto the ground, so colorful that they can't help but make the hands of the picker all blue and purple. Our call to bearing fruit causes our love to overflow like those heavy-laden grape vines. 

And our call to bearing fruit is very clear in the passage in first John, it is to love our brothers and sisters. These are the brothers and sisters who make us crazy, these are the ones you can't live with, and you can't live without. These are the brothers and sisters you wish would call more often and who talk too much on the phone. These are the brothers and sisters you fight with and who you sit down to dinner with. These are the brothers and sisters who drink too much, tell dirty jokes, and die much too early. These are the brothers and sisters who take care of your parents just like you do. These are the brothers and sisters who produce your nieces and nephews. These are the brothers and sisters who won't pick up their toys, who hit you in the back seat of the car, who want to watch a stupid movie when you're trying to watch your own stupid movie, these are the brothers and sisters you love no matter what. It's a good thing Love wins, because there are those days when loving your brothers and sisters is absolutely impossible. 

We don't pick our brothers and our sisters. There are those we wish were are brothers and our sisters, the ones we like, the ones we get along with, the ones we invite over for sleepovers, the ones who love us just the way we are. I'm really thankful for them, I call them friends. And, we count ourselves lucky when our brothers and our sisters are also our friends. But still, that's not what fruit bearing and following Jesus are really all about. Following Jesus is about what we do not only when it's easy and convenient, but what we do when it is not easy or convenient. Of course loving our brothers and sisters is about loving our brothers and sisters, but it is so much bigger than that. It is also about loving our brothers and sisters who live on this giant rock with us, because we are all related. 

Loving our brothers and sisters has everything to do with those we are related to by blood, and those we are related to by brokenness. And maybe that’s where we go so terribly wrong sometimes. Our forgetfulness gets the best of us. We forget that the state of humanity is brokenness; we forget that it is our vulnerability, our wounds, our scars, being made in God’s image, is what is at the core of our relatedness. We come here to remember, we come here to break bread, drink this wine from the grapes picked from the vine, we come here to be healed, we come here to be sent, we come here to love.

Following Jesus is about that relationship. Following Jesus is about gratefully acknowledging our creator God's relationship to us each and every day. Following Jesus is about gratefully acknowledging our connection to one another every day. Following Jesus is about finding the relationship between people, finding the connection between us and the other, finding the way to acknowledge one another's dignity and worth, even when that seems impossible. Following Jesus is being connected to this vine that gives us life. Because it is Love that wins, after all.   

Saturday, April 21, 2018

4 Easter Yr B April 22 2018



4 Easter Yr B April 22 2018 Audio

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters. The words of this 23rd Psalm may be the most familiar words in the bible. The image of Jesus the Good Shepherd may be the most familiar image in the bible. It is depicted in artwork and in music. We describe congregations as flocks, we describe pastors as shepherds. It isn't the only image of Jesus, but it may be the most comfortable. Jesus is also the bread, the light, a path, a gate, a vine. There are many. 

Each one of the images that is presented to us about who Jesus is, the shepherd, the bread, the light, a path, a gate, a vine reveals something about the fullness and the wholeness and the extent of Jesus' invitation into the reality of the gift of God's love, the gift of God in our midst. Each of these images invites us in a different sort of way into how we might be related, how we might be in relationship, and what that trust is like and what it is about. This image we have before us today, this image of the Good Shepherd, helps us to see the fullness of God's investment in God's project of calling all people to God's self. We have in this story comfort and trust and guidance and, we are called by name.

Hear the sound of your name as the one you love speaks it. Hear the sound of your name when your best friend in all the world is on the other end of the phone. Remember the sound of your name when your mom called you for dinner, or maybe used your entire name when you did something you shouldn’t have done, KATHLEEN ANN MONSON, or when she sang you to sleep at night. Even remember the sound of your name when used in anger, or in fear, KATHY, get out of the street! Or when your beloved calls our to you. When you hear your name like this, you know the one who is speaking it knows who you are. They’ve known you forever, they knew you before you were born, they’ve expected your homecoming, they named you, they love you. 

Hear the sound of your name as this one who loves you speaks it. You were called into being before you were born. Your name was spoken at your baptism. You are called to be the person you were created to be, the minister you were created to be. Kathy, follow me, you’ll be fed at green pastures and by still waters, I will guide you along right pathways, and be by your side through the valley of the shadow of death. I will feed you, and fill you. You have been anointed for the work I call you to do. 

Each of us are called by name, often lovingly, sometimes urgently, like the sheep, we seek that voice that calls. Sometimes, we wander far and get caught in the brambles, we get hurt, we break our leg. 

But, the radical nature of Jesus the Good Shepherd is that this shepherd gives his life for the sheep. That is the good news of this shepherd. In our passage we hear about the hired hand, the hired shepherd, who leaves the sheep and runs away when danger comes. The gospel writer John shows us that is not who Jesus is. My friends, you and I are called by name, and this particular shepherd is not like the others. This shepherd says and does something truly radical. “I lay down my life for my sheep." No other shepherd does that. 

We are loved absolutely and abundantly. Jesus lays down his life; he suffers and is killed, and is raised from the dead. So we follow this shepherd, who shows us and gives us absolutely new life. We too are called to lay down our lives as a response to that amazing love. And in doing that, we are transformed and created new on the journey. This journey is not about the endgame, it is about being the body of Christ while we journey together. It is about the love and care we have for each other and the rest of creation. It is about the broken bread, the spilt wine, the healing, being put back together after a terrible grief. Resurrection is a way of life. We think Easter is a day, but it is not, Easter resurrection is a way of life.

Because of our limited human imagination, we think death is an ending. Jesus, the shepherd, shows us that death is just the beginning. It is the beginning of the new creation. It is the beginning of transformation. It is the beginning of being created in God’s image. Death is painful, death is hard, death of the one we love, the death of the things we love, but the promise is that Jesus takes up our life again; Jesus shows us how to do it. We walk together through the valley of the shadow of death, Jesus walks with us, and even when it feels like you can’t bear another pain, you put one foot in front of the other, and walk the way, in the promise that death does not have the final word.

And if we are to live this life fully alive, fully aware, fully engaged, and not afraid; if we are to live this life called by our baptism, called by name, marked as Christ’s own forever, we follow the shepherd to the green pasture, beside the still waters, through the valley of the shadow of death and we will come out on the other side.

But it’s pretty scary, isn’t it. You see, death is as much a reality of life as life is. Life is sometimes joyful, sometimes painful, oftentimes uneventful. Death is hard, and scary, and completely and absolutely redefines who we’ve become. And in the midst of it all, in the midst of the joy and the pain of this life, we are called. In the midst of the muck and the mess, in the midst of our imperfection, we are called.

Jesus is the gate. And every sheep, everyone, is welcome. All of us, those who are in pain, grief; those who are just messed up; those whose lives are just fine; those who need more and those who have all they need; those who just can’t believe. You, you are welcome, Jesus is the gate, Jesus is the shepherd, Jesus is the love that wins.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

2 Easter Yr B April 8 2018



Ah, Thomas, the one who has gotten the bad rap all these years. What if we understood Thomas as a believer, rather than a doubter? What if we regard Thomas as one who must have his own experience of the risen Jesus? Thomas, who says he must touch the wounds of Jesus, he must see all the gory details resulting from Jesus’ death, and in the end, he doesn’t, in the end, Thomas hears Jesus’ voice and proclaims, “My Lord and my God.” Thomas is for all of us, who will not see Jesus but are invited to believe or encouraged to continue to believe. Thomas must have his own experience of the risen Jesus; Thomas must encounter Jesus on his own terms, so that we, who will not see Jesus, may encounter Jesus ourselves, and believe.

This story that we read today, about Thomas and other followers of Jesus, is the third in a series of encounters with Jesus. The first we read on Easter morning, when Mary came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been rolled away. Mary saw what is reported as angels, she explained to them her distress, heard her name, and proclaimed, “I have seen the Lord”. The second and third are these stories today, Jesus appears to his followers and says, “Peace be with you.” Thomas misses all this excitement, so Jesus shows up the next time with the same words, “Peace be with you.” Three encounters with Jesus, three proclamations of belief, all so that we may believe as well.

You see, that’s what the gospel writer wants for us. John tells these stories so that we may hear Jesus call us, encounter Jesus, and believe and follow.

Mary hears Jesus call her name, Jesus calls to Thomas. Earlier in John’s story Jesus calls to the blind man and to Lazarus. Jesus even calls all the sheep by name. I know something about what that’s like. 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.

Hear what John is saying to us? Throughout the fourth gospel we hear Jesus call our name, we hear Jesus call to the blind man, we hear Jesus call Lazarus out of the tomb, we hear Jesus call the sheep, we hear Jesus call Mary, and Thomas, and you, and me. We hear Jesus call us into this amazing and abundant love. We hear Jesus call us into an encounter that changes our lives.

My mom held the door open wide for me to come running in. Jesus is not just holding the door open for us, but Jesus is the door through which we find love and life. Listen to these words, “the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked, Jesus came and stood among them. Jesus don’t need no door, Jesus is the door, Jesus is the gate through which the sheep move, Jesus wants to have this relationship, wants us to walk through this door, so that we may believe and follow.

Because that’s it, right? This whole experience we have just had, this Holy Week, this suffering and death and resurrection, is all about this relationship, this encounter with Jesus, so that we may believe and follow. So that we may believe, not in some sort of magic, or some sort of rules and regulations, but so that we may believe in the love that wins, the love that knows no bounds, the love that gives itself for us, the love that makes us whole.

And this relationship stirs in us the response of following. We are followers of Jesus, we are part of the Jesus movement. This is what the gospel writer John wants for us, to encounter Jesus, to hear Jesus call our names, and to be in relationship with Jesus. And then, follow. In doing so we help to change the world from our nightmare to God’s dream.

In these stories the disciples are beginning to comprehend the Incarnation, God who walks this way with us, and they are ready to change the world, even though they don’t know it yet. The energy of God, the Holy Spirit, has been breathed into them.

How do you hear Jesus call your name? How does Jesus open the door of your heart and heal it? Because that’s what this is about. It’s not about being a perfect disciple. None of Jesus followers were perfect disciples. Peter, the one who denied Jesus, Judas, the one who betrayed Jesus, Thomas, the one who wants to feel and touch Jesus, Mary, the one who anoints Jesus with the very costly perfume. All of the people who populate these stories are people just like us, people who have at times turned our backs on those who love us, people who at times have succumbed to our addictions and the things that control us. We are people who have been broken by the world’s will and ways. We are the people who are not perfect, and who are loved perfectly by the one who is the door to wholeness and healing.

We hear Jesus call our name when we remember who we are. We hear Jesus call our name in the voice of one who says, I know who you are, I know you have been pulled apart, and I love you anyway. We hear the breath of God blow into our hearts and souls, Peace be with you.

It is in being put back together again that belief grows. Not in perfection, or having it all together, or even in having it all. Jesus takes on our imperfection, the fragments of our lives, and puts us back together again, rearranges our dust so that we may be whole and healed. And it is possible for us to love again. It is possible for us to love our neighbor.

And, like the followers in our story today, the followers who were afraid, confused, disoriented, and sad at loosing their friend, we followers gather together in the confidence that the breath of God inspires us, that in the prayers, and the song, in the bread and the wine, Jesus is in our midst. And like those first followers, we too have to leave that room, we must leave this room, and help change the world from this nightmare to God’s dream. Love God, love one another, show it! Amen.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Easter Yr B April 1 2018




Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?" Thinking he was the gardener, she replied, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him and I will get him." Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned and said to him, "Teacher." Mary left and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord."

We have had quite a journey to get to this place, this Easter morning and the alleluias. We followers of Jesus, along with all of the characters who populate this amazing story of love, Peter, Mary, John, 
have accompanied Jesus into Jerusalem with the shouting of Hosannas. We have watched with horror as the events turned violent. We have been implicated in the apathy that allowed Jesus to be condemned and killed. We sat in the silence and waited as we believed with those very first followers, 
that Jesus, the one who stood for love, the one who healed others, was dead. That was the end. It looked like failure. It looked like the light went out. It looked like evil won. 

And Jesus said to her, Mary. With that one word, with that name, everything changed. Mary. And Mary knew. She knew that this man she had known in life, defeated death. She knew that this man she had loved, was all that had been promised. The temple would be destroyed and raised in three days. She knew what it meant. Jesus was where the God she had worshipped since she was a child, lived now. Jesus, was where God walked, and loved and healed. Jesus, whose body was broken on that cross, now is the one who puts us back together again. Mary suddenly realized that death does not have the final word. Mary suddenly knew that it is in dieing that there is new life. "I've seen the Lord."

"Child of God, take this bread and eat it. It is broken for you because you are broken. Let it nourish you; let it sustain you. It is Christ. Always strive to be like Christ, who was broken to heal our brokenness." (Tom Lutes)

Our sadness and grief of Holy Week, our brokenness in life, is put back together in this Easter hope, on this Easter morning. We are Easter people. We are named, like Mary on that first Easter morning, Marty, Jan, Suzy, Rick, Carolyn, Curtis, and our lives sing with the love that created us, the love that calls us into being, the love that puts us back together when we break apart, when we miss the mark, 
the love that changes our very hearts and souls into a new creation. And on our hearts, with the cursive of the healed scars, is inscribed the words, you are loved, broken, healed, love one another.  

As Easter people we don't ignore the reality of our lives, in all of the happiness and hurtfulness, in all of the care and chaos, in all of the tenderness and terror. It is never one way or the other, it is always a dance of pain and joy. But we do live this life fully embraced and empowered by this Easter reality, your life matters, it matters now. The reality of the cross and the resurrection shows us that our relationships matter, that dignity and respect matter. 

As Easter people we live in the reality that changed the way the we are related to one another. Power doesn't win, love wins. Darkness does not prevail, light shines through. Brokenness doesn't end our lives, it only creates the fissures into which God's love can seep.  

And as Easter people, as people who have been named by Jesus, like Mary at the tomb, we are claimed as God's own. Our hearts and our lives are claimed by the love that heals us, the love that puts us back together, the love that wins. And from that love flows the ministry that God calls us to, love one another. Because, with Mary, we announce to the world, "I've seen the Lord." 

Now, Jesus dwells with us, and together we are about the business of kingdom building. like Jesus did and does, kingdom building in which all are loved, kingdom building in which all are fed. Kingdom building in which mercy and compassion rule. Kingdom building in which a broken body makes us whole, kingdom building in which the body of christ makes us a body of christ.

And that, my friends is hope. Hope that is not magical, or wishful. Hope that shows that there is nothing, not even death, that can separate us from God's love. Even when all seems lost, Jesus says to Mary, why are you crying, and Mary knows that all of her heartache is changed into joy. This hope does not crumble under the weight of expectation, this hope does not dissolve into a sea of despair. 
This hope assures us that even when we cannot see to the other side, new life will emerge, it must, it does, because that is what the cross is all about. We are Easter people.  

As we walk out of the doors of this church this morning, our work begins. The body of christ is at work with God's mission of healing and reconciliation in the world. It is our work of bearing God's love to those who, like us are broken, our work of bearing God's love in all places and all times. Our work of feeding those who are hungry, because we have been hungry. Our work of mercy and compassion, because we know what it is like to miss the mark. 

We are Easter people. We walk this journey of life knowing the amazement of resurrection, and the pain and suffering that precedes it. We are Easter people. We are nourished by the bread and the body that is broken for us. We are Easter people, made whole by the love that wins. 
Alleluia, christ is risen.  

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost Yr A Proper 9 July 5 2020

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