Saturday, May 26, 2018

Trinity Sunday Yr B May 27 2018

Trinity Sunday Yr B May 27 2018 Audio

If you remember back to ten reasons to do church, that I talked about last week, you'll remember that I began with eating. Much of our gathering together is around eating a meal, eating bread and drinking wine. We have a big meal awaiting us today. In the book called People of the Way, Renewing Episcopal Identity, by Dwight Zscheile (Shylie), he writes

"Every Sunday at ordinary Episcopal churches, something extraordinary takes place. In a society in which tables of hospitality are mostly closed off to strangers, a public feast is held. You don't need to buy a ticket to this meal. Not everyone necessarily knows each other; not everyone gets along perfectly, but they come together nonetheless. The food is simple stuff - bread and wine - about to become something more than itself. As the story is told and songs are sung, a change takes place. Hearts are lifted. The brokenness in the lives of each of the participants, and the brokenness of the world, is brought into focus. Healing begins to pour through it. Lives turned inward are opened outward. In the midst of the messiness and richness of this meal is the presence of Jesus, felt and known through the Spirit, tasted in the bread and wine, inviting us and the whole of the world into community with God." (p.44)

I think this description of what we do when we gather together has everything to do with Trinity, which we recognize today. I loved going to my Sunday evening youth group when I was in high school. We’d gather at someone’s home, have some snacks, and talk about important things facing us. While many thought that was boring, I actually looked forward each week to learning something. Well, the time came for the young priest to come and teach us all about the Trinity. I figured I'd have all my questions answered that night, but no, I left more confused than I was when I arrived. Over the years, I’ve come to know that it’s really not so hard. Theologians and systematicians make it more confusing than it has to be. You know, in many churches that have multiple priests on staff, it's always the new guy that preaches on Trinity Sunday because no one else wants to. 

You see, Trinity is not to be explained, but to be experienced. Trinity is a way of talking about the richness of God's communal life, God’s shared life. Trinity is community with God, and at it’s core it is relationship. It is God's nature to create others to share in God's life. As followers of Jesus in the first few centuries sought to make sense out of the relationship among the Jesus they had known as Lord, the Spirit they experienced in community, and the God of Israel to whom the scriptures gave witness, they developed what has come to be known as the doctrine of the Trinity.

The reading we have before us today from Isaiah shows us the God who is creator of all, of all that is seen and unseen, holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts. And from Romans we see the Spirit that bears witness that we are all children of God. In John, we see Jesus, who comes into this world and lives and loves and suffers and dies and absorbs all the pain and suffering and violence on the cross. Jesus speaks to Nicodemus about what new life is all about. This is Trinity. It is how God presents Godself, it is how we humans imagine God in relationship. It is a model of how we may live this life in community with others on the way.

I bind unto myself today, the strong name of the trinity, by invocation of the same, the three in one and one in three. Creative, compassionate, merciful. Father, son, spirit. Mother, daughter, servant. Composer, musicians, music. Author, story, reader. Swimmer, water, breath. Steam, liquid, ice. Light, wave, particle. 

Recently I was introduced to another way to experience Trinity. Think of the three primary colors, red, yellow, and blue. If you divide a piece of paper into three sections and paint each section a different primary color, then spin the paper very quickly it will appear white. It is a simple illustration of oneness and threeness. It makes the point that the ‘oneness’ is dynamic but does not diminish the three. 

Essentially, the Trinity says what our sacred text says at its opening creation story: that it is not good for humans — or God for that matter — to be alone; that meaning is created in community and through relationships; that we do better as creatures when we join hands rather than raise fists. Trinity is God experienced in community, Trinity is God's abundant and amazing love spilling out creatively as it includes all of God's creation. Trinity is much less a doctrine, and much more a dance. A dance in which everyone participates.

So what does Trinity mean for us today? So many people believe the story that dominates American life today, you indeed may be one of them. That you are what you earn or achieve, that identity must be cobbled together from a wide array of shifting possibilities, that you must work incessantly at securing meaning and community because these things are not given, or that you. Amidst competition, consumerism, anxiety, and opportunity, life is what you make of it, largely on your own. Underneath these swirling waters of struggle lay the deep currents of isolation, fragmentation, and despair. 

The story that we tell, the truth that we tell, is one in which every human life is precious beyond measure, created for loving relationship with the source of all life. In this story, your worth is given, not earned. You are welcomed into a community in which no one goes hungry, differences need not be a cause of division, but a gift to be celebrated, you are offered forgiveness and are released to forgive others. You are claimed by a love and power beyond your own. You are held in arms of grace, you are part of a community in which Love wins. And in that, you are freed to participate in the restoration of human community and all creation.

Trinity calls us to wholeness, to relationship, to community. Trinity calls us away from isolation, and frees us to call each other neighbor. Our response to that is to participate in what God is already doing in the world. If our God is a God of relationship, of community, of co-creativity, maybe that's what our mission is in the world. Maybe participating in what God is already doing in the world is about building bridges, reaching out, inviting others into the Love that wins, the love that embraces every one no matter what, the love that burns a fire within us, the love that creates a Jesus movement.

Maybe participating in what God is already doing is about accompanying people, walking with people who are hurting, and offering partnership in that. It isn't always about relieving suffering, sometimes it is walking the pilgrim path with others, like Jesus does. Maybe participating in what God is already doing is about responding to those who would crucify us, responding with love and not revenge, therefore absorbing hate like Jesus does, instead of inflaming hate. Instead of spewing words of judgment and hate, maybe participating in what God is already doing is showing that Love wins, like Jesus does.

Trinity, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, is about participating in a web of relationship, eating with a community of people, dancing with others to the music of the seraphim. It is proclaiming with Isaiah, Here I am, send me! It is proclaiming with Jesus, Love wins. Amen.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Feast of Pentecost Yr B May 20 2018

Feast of Pentecost Yr B May 20 2018 Audio

Thomas Edison once said after a fire destroyed his laboratory, "There is great value in disaster. All our mistakes are burned up. Thank God we can start anew." Three weeks after the fire, Edison delivered his first phonograph. For us, Pentecost is that fire. Pentecost is that destroyer that is new life. I'm reminded of the controlled burns that often happened in the Black Hills, every once in a while one turned into a wildfire. A controlled burn is an illusion. After a burn, natural or human made, new life is springs up all over the place. The fire of Holy Spirit cannot be controlled. The fire of Holy Spirit cannot be predicted. The fire of Holy Spirit brings growth that cannot be imagined. 

And when the Holy Spirit shows us, nothing can be contained, not even the words that fall from the mouth. These readings before us today point us to Holy Spirit. They point us to the church, the people, not buildings and not institutions, but followers of Jesus. Followers of Jesus, who know that in their lives, Love wins. 

Indeed, today I think Pentecost is about breaking out of the framework, and being about God's reconciling mission in the world. Pentecost is about being a follower of Jesus and doing it together, with other people on the way. And for us, it is about doing it in this peculiar and particular way as Episcopalians at Trinity.

So we celebrate this Feast of the Pentecost as the birth of the church. And in the spirit of the amazing message our Presiding Bishop delivered yesterday at the royal wedding, “the day the fire came down,” I offer to you, my top ten list of the church. Here you are.

Number 1 Church is where there is always something to eat, and everyone gets fed. We know our risen lord in the breaking of the bread, we know our risen lord in the sharing of a meal, we know our risen lord in the hearts and the faces of those we feed as well as in the feeding. Something mystical and amazing happens when we are made Jesus' body through the sharing of a meal. We are made whole, we are put back together, we are joined with God and with one another.

Number 2 Our liturgy, what we do when we are gathered together, makes sense of our lives. Because many of us live hectic and full lives, we make room for silence. Because we need a language for worship of that which is not us, we pray with words and symbol, we pray with music and song, we pray in order and in chaos. Because when the pain gets too hard to bear, we have a place to put it here, in this place. And when the joy and gratitude bubble over, there are others to catch it and share it.

Number 3 No matter what you believe, there's bound to be at least one other Episcopalian who agrees with you. That one is not really mine, it's from Robin Williams, who was an Episcopalian. We engage in the very important skill of theological reflection. We engage the world, and we consider it through the lens of scripture, tradition, and reason. We read scripture together, we learn about its context, we talk about it, we even argue about it, and we make up our own minds as to how we live its claim on our lives. You don't have to check your mind at the door. And no matter what, we gather around the table and eat together anyway.

Number 4 People love one another. That is an action, not necessarily a feeling. We treat each other, and all those who come looking for acceptance, with dignity and respect. And when we don't, we ask for forgiveness and are granted it. This is a vision of the kingdom. In God's kingdom, all are loved, all are cared for, all are forgiven. In the church, we fall short but we arc toward that vision.

Number 5 Children are always welcome, old people too, and gay people and straight people for that matter, and ordinary people, and extraordinary people. God loves everyone, no exceptions, and church, this church in particular, lives that out. Again, not perfectly, there are times when we forget who we are, we forget that our number one priority is to welcome all as Christ welcomes all. 

Number 6 There are some important times in people's lives that we pay attention to: birth and baptism, marriage, death, and even the times in between, birthdays, wedding anniversaries, times of sickness and suffering, times of joy and celebration, comings and goings. We pay attention to these times because it is often at these times the time and distance between us and God, us and the others in our lives, thins. It is these times when we lift our hearts and our voices to give God praise, to ask for strength and courage, to turn to one another for support, not because we have to, but because it is what our humanity calls us to. We talk to God and with one another in the words that come into our hearts and our minds, and when we cannot find the words to say what needs to be said, we turn to our Prayer Book. We turn to the words that have been said and prayed through the years, the decades, and the centuries. There we can place our joy and our sorrow, and know that we are held in the awesome presence of our Creator God, our Father and Mother God, our loving God. 

Number 7 We show up consistently, we listen, we tell the truth, and we try, hard as we might, to let go of the outcome. This one is the foundation of all ministry. We show up. That's a tough one these days. There is so much that demands our attention. There are many, many things we could be doing besides coming here to do this each Sunday morning. But we know that it's not about having the time to come, none of us really have any time, instead, it's about knowing that to be whole people, we need to stop for a few moments, stop and listen to God and to one another. We show up. 

We listen, we listen to God's word, to one another, sometimes you even listen to me, I try to listen to you. We listen in the silence of this space, we listen in the cacophony of the marketplace, we listen to the music of the spheres and the music we make together. We listen.

We tell the truth. How hard is that? The truth that God loves you no matter what. The truth that God came and comes into this created world to walk with us on the way. The truth that there is pain and suffering and sometimes life just sucks, but we are not alone. The truth that in Jesus' life and suffering and death on the cross, Love wins. The truth that nothing belongs to us anyway, the truth that we are stewards of God's creation, stewards of our children, stewards of this beautiful building, and we live in gratitude for all of it.  

We let go of the outcome. See number eight.

Number 8 We recognize that God is God and we are not. We are not the center of the universe, we are not the hub of the wheel, we are not the most important of God's creation. We are interdependent, we are one part of a mighty creation, we are not in control.  We let go of the outcome.

Number 9 We recognize that we are transformed by God's amazing and abundant love in Jesus Christ. The relationship that God has with us changes us, the relationship we have with others changes us. We begin to look more and more like people of mercy and compassion, we begin to look more and more like people who feed each other, who feed the hungry. We begin to look more and more like people who miss the mark, ask for forgiveness, and are loved regardless.

Number 10 We go out into the world as followers of Jesus, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, and to visit the imprisoned, see number 9. We embody mercy and compassion, we listen to God's call in our lives, we seek to get on board with what God is already blessing. We recognize that God is the greatest healing and integrating force in an increasingly fragmented world. We understand that it is our call to be the peace makers, the light bearers, the agents of healing and reconciliation in the world.

Because in the end, church is not this building, or any building, Church is the fire that burns in our hearts, church is the love of Jesus that puts us together as a body. So, on this Feast of Pentecost, I ask some questions about the future of the church. How do we keep ever burning, ever reforming, ever emerging? How do we find a way to speak in a language people can understand? How do we stay nimble, that is, how do we respond to the global nature of the world in which we live, and how do we respond to the ever more instant communication that people have in their hands and at their disposal? How do we help people to see that true freedom is in relationship with God, with Jesus, with the Spirit, and with others? 

Because in the beginning, and in the middle, and at the end, it is love after all. Amen. 

Saturday, May 12, 2018

7 Easter Yr B May 13 2018

Jesus is not the “parent” of his followers but his love for them is at least as fervent as a mother for her children.  Thus as Jesus looks ahead to his own departure, realizing that he’d have to leave his friends to keep working in the midst of a highly challenging world, Jesus knows that among the things he must pray for them is protection from the evil one, from the destructive forces of life that seem calculated to knock the stuffing out of us more days than not.  Jesus knows, too, that the success of his mission depends precisely on the disciples’ not being transported out of this world nor cocooned away somewhere far away from society or from the people in this world who need to hear the Gospel message.

Jesus prays “protect them.” I pray for my children, that they are not dead in a ditch somewhere. Although that is my prayer, I’m not sure that’s what Jesus had in mind. What is the protection that Jesus prays for? I think when we think about God’s protection we may think about being spared from an untimely death. Sometimes we even live in a bit of a fantasy that includes immortality, invulnerability, and invincibility. Nothing Jesus does, nothing Jesus prays, takes away the reality of death. But Jesus assures his friends, Jesus prays to his father, protect them don’t lose them.

Maybe what Jesus imagines when he prays, protect them, is protection from the ways and the wills of the world. You see, following Jesus, then or now, is not about withdrawing from the world, actually, that might be easier. Finding a solitary cave somewhere so no one can bother you, or disagree with you, or offend you, some days looks to me like a sweet deal. Protect them, while they live in the world. Protect them while they love you and love their neighbors. Protect them while they stand up for my love. Protect them when they stand up for those who are hungry, and tired. Protect them when their words and actions disrupt the accepted order of things.

You see, Jesus knows what trouble you can get into when you work to change systems that keep people in poverty, at the least you get called names, some have been thrown into jail, some have been killed for it. Jesus knows what trouble you can get into when you insist that all God’s children should have affordable health care, or education.

God’s protection doesn’t keep us alive, or even safe, it doesn’t even keep us from worrying. Although we hear over and over, do not be afraid, worry will get you nowhere. God’s protection surrounds us in the power of the Spirit, that we may be assured of the love and the grace that comes only from the one who rises from the dead and ascends into heaven.

So the evening before Jesus is betrayed, beaten, and executed, Jesus stops, and prays for those he loves and leaves behind. Jesus prays for assurance and protection. This is some amazing love. This is love that is all about a relationship. This prayer in John’s gospel is near the end of Jesus’ farewell to his followers. In the other gospels, Jesus’ prayer is the one we know as the Lord’s Prayer. But in this gospel, this is Jesus’ prayer.

We hear Jesus recall for us another story; the shepherd who looks for the one sheep who is lost, the story of the shepherd who calls the sheep by name, the shepherd who brings the sheep into the sheepfold; the shepherd who protects the sheep.

Sometimes this world can be a rough and dangerous place. School is not always a safe place. Work can be brutal. That is not to say that we don’t have glimpses of hope and holiness, indeed we do. We do when we are participants in God’s grace and protection. When we offer love to the unloved we become the agents of God’s protection. When we offer mercy when others jump to judgment, we become the bearers God’s love. When we act on our convictions to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God we become bearers of the gospel, bearers of the good news.

And that is what Jesus prays for his followers, for us. Protect them when they bear your love into the world.

As a mother, I want desperately to protect my children. When they were young I spent a lot of time and energy protecting their innocence, I really didn’t want them to have to encounter the meanness, the harshness, the world could dish out sometimes. I never even imagined when my children were little, what kind of risk there would be in just going to school. But at the very least I know that my job as parent was and is to equip them with resiliency, to cover them in love, and to show them that no matter what, even when my love is imperfect, God’s love is not. But I cannot save them from pain, from destruction, from death. Even God does not.

You see, even God’s protection does not save us from the reality of this life, but instead, goes with us into the brambles, the pits, and the grave, accompanies us and assures us of the something more that is resurrection and ascension. That’s actually what we hear right at the end of this prayer. Jesus says, sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. You see, used in this way, sanctify is synonymous with protect. Jesus again asks for protection for us. We do live in the reality of resurrection, of new life, and that is what empowers us to do the work that we are called to do. We are protected by the power of the Holy Spirit, and accompanied by the risen Christ, and imbued with the love of God, to live the life that has been promised; the life of justice and kindness, not of ease and absence of pain.

It is our job to be agents of justice. It is our job to be bearers of kindness. In every time and place, no matter what, with God’s protection and grace we who are followers of Jesus go out into the world to love and serve our God. Amen.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

6 Easter Yr B May 6 2018

6 Easter Yr B May 6 2018 Audio

Last week we heard the beginning of this gospel story of the grapes and the vine and the branches. What we hear today is the remainder of that story. The section before us today focuses on love, and that abiding in the vine is the same as abiding in love. This is a story about God loving the world so much, that God decides to dwell as Jesus, in the world. This is a story about Jesus revealing God’s abundant love, and showing us what that abundant love looks like. This is a story that shows us that God chooses us.

I want you to remember back to Holy Week. On the Thursday night of Holy Week, Maundy Thursday, we celebrate Holy Communion and we wash one another’s feet. We do those things because during Holy Week we are walking a journey with Jesus, and in the story of Jesus’ last days, these are some of the things Jesus does. Remember that story, remember that night. Jesus is at table with his friends for the very last time, they all know this. Jesus gets up from the table, ties a towel around himself, kneels down in front of his friends, and washes their feet. In this church, many of you, mama’s and children, brothers and sisters, friends, sat in this spot, and washed each other’s feet. Grimy, dirty, feet. Jesus shows us this is what love looks like. Today we hear, love one another as I have loved you. This is what love looks like, wash one another’s feet.

This is a story about Jesus revealing God’s abundant love, and showing us what that abundant love looks like. Keeping God’s commandments is to love.

Because Jesus loves his friends and us, Jesus is setting up a framework for relying on each other in his absence. Jesus says, you are my friends; I choose you. Jesus showed his disciples, his friends, everything he could imagine about this life of love they would lead without him. Those disciples needed to hear Jesus’ commitment to them, his reassurance that the relationship is firm and sound. We hear this as well. You are my friends, I chose you, and I appoint you to go and bear fruit.

This story is part of the last things Jesus says and does before he dies. It is so important for Jesus to reassure his disciples that he would not leave them, us, alone. We are Jesus friends, and Jesus does not leave us alone. Jesus leaves us with each other, and the Holy Spirit, and we will bear fruit. We are connected to the vine, and we will have life.

I imagine Jesus’ friends being so very frightened at the thought of losing him. This man who has taught them so much about themselves, so much about life and love. They wanted him there with them. They wanted to be reassured that he would always be there. Isn’t that true for you and the ones you love? We cannot even begin to face the reality that our mothers, or our fathers, our brothers or sisters, our friends, might die. We wonder how life can even begin to be joyful without them.

Or what about the reality of the cross? Sometimes it can be so confusing. So what if the cross is the natural if painful extension of God’s willingness to enter into our confusion and chaos and violence and heartache? Then, maybe, the cross is simply testimony to just how much God loves us – that God will not shy away even from the worst of humanity’s instincts – and the resurrection that follows is the promise and sign that when we’ve done our very worst, been our very worst, fallen so tragically short of God’s hopes for us, yet God’s love embodied and enfleshed in Jesus endures, remains, and is victorious.

So into this reality Jesus speaks these words about vines and branches, abiding in love; these words of interconnectedness; these words of friendship and joy. You see, Jesus knows he cannot take away these pains of life, Jesus cannot take away the reality of death, but Jesus assures them, Jesus assures us, that together we can bear the pain, and through that pain, even when we cannot see it yet, joy will grow. Not only does joy grow, but there is something new, abundant life, as well.

What an amazing image the gospel writer John sets before us; vines that grow, and weave in and through each other. Vines that attached to the root bear much fruit. Jesus knew his friends well, Jesus knows us so very well. Because isn’t it true that we really prefer to make a go of it on our own? How many of us have heard our own children, our own grandchildren say in a very determined way, “do it myself!” We forget about the barn raisings of our ancestors, we rarely bring hotdish to our neighbors at the birth of a child, or the death of a parent anymore. How many in our community and our country accept without question the individualism that separates us. How many times do we hear, if only they would get a job and work harder they wouldn’t need help, without understanding that we never get anywhere by ourselves, our success is built on the success of others, and sometimes our success is built on the adversity of others.

How do we imagine new ways of being, new ways of being connected that bring life to the vine, and produce grapes worthy of the wine that is poured out for us? For this is the joy that Jesus describes. We don’t pursue joy, joy is the fruit of our relationship with Jesus, our relationships with one another. Joy is the fruit of our connection to the vine.

One way the gospel writer John imagines this new way of being in Jesus is by washing one another’s feet. In the first century Mediterranean world washing feet is the consummate act of servant hood. So this story turns the tables of well-defined roles, servant sits in the chair of the master, and master kneels at the feet of the servant. This is also what love looks like.

What does this love look like for you? What does this kind of servant ministry look like for you? I had the honor of attending the first annual GIFTS dinner on Tuesday night. For the sake of not using acronyms that some may not know, GIFTS means God is Faithful Temporary Shelter, and it is the homeless men’s ministry in Janesville. GIFTS is what love looks like. GIFTS is a story that focuses on love, GIFTS is a story about God loving the world so much, that God decides to dwell as Jesus, in the world. GIFTS is a story that reveals God’s abundant love.

How do we imagine new ways of being in God’s love? We show forth God’s love for us, we embody Jesus’ servant ministry, we wash one another’s feet. Thanks be to God.

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost Yr A Proper 9 July 5 2020

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost Yr A Proper 9 July 5 2020 Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67, Psalm 45: 11-18, Romans 7:15-25a, Matthew 11:1...