Friday, July 27, 2018

10 Pentecost Proper 12 Yr B July 29 2018

10 Pentecost Proper 12 Yr B July 29 2018 Audio

Because you all are quick, you’ll realize right away that we jumped from reading the gospel of Mark to the gospel of John. Be forewarned, we’ll jump back into Mark in a few weeks. But for the next few weeks, we will be considering the entire sixth chapter of John. It feels a bit to me like starting the yeast today, and waiting for the next five weeks as the yeast does its work. As the bread rises, gets punched down and rises again. These are the bread stories, the feeding stories, these are the stories of sacrament and sacrifice.

The stories before us today are stories of abundance. Not the abundance of the prosperity gospel. It’s important for us to understand this difference. There are preachers who claim if you give your money to God, God will bless you with more money. If you invest your money with God, you could have a hundredfold return on your investment. This prosperity gospel is rooted in success, not Scripture. Mother Teresa has said “God does not require that we be successful, only that we be faithful.”

Believers in prosperity like winners. Thus, natural disasters like hurricanes and catastrophic floods do not provide the winning narratives crucial to keep adherents chained to prosperity gospel thinking. The likely conclusion then to a prosperity gospel is that the unlucky are responsible for their own misfortune. This prosperity gospel informs many who are in power today, both as televangelists and politicians.

Very different from a prosperity gospel are these stories about how life is abundant when it is grounded in relationship with Jesus. Jesus is the source of abundance.

So let’s consider our abundance. We eat really well, don't we? Every time we get together we have a feast, right here in this space, as well as over at Ortymeyer. One of the most important ways we take care of the family of a loved one who has died is with the hospitality of a meal. And Paula leads us in providing an ample breakfast for the men of GIFTS. We have church potlucks and family potlucks, and sometimes those are one and the same. I believe gathering around a table and sharing a meal is one way, and a really important way, we respect the dignity of every human being. We don't have to agree on anything when we eat together. We honor God's image in one another as we share a meal. Everyone has something to eat, and that is enough. 

The feeding story is about that. Everyone has something to eat, and that is enough. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down with the disciples. They all sat there in the city park, about five thousand in all. The little boy had five loaves and two fish. What a surprise. Jesus took the five loaves of bread, the two fish, gave thanks for all of it, and Jesus distributed them to everyone. They ate as much as they wanted, and when they were satisfied, the disciples gathered up the fragments, and they filled twelve baskets.

In this gospel, and this is different from the same story in the other gospels where the disciples distribute the bread and the fish, Jesus feeds those who are sitting in the park. Imagine yourself, sitting in that park, on the grass, with your family by you, anticipating what this teacher may have to say today, what may inspire you. As you are sitting there listening, and watching all that is going on around you, Jesus brings you some bread, and a piece of fish. You are close enough to see Jesus, to look into those eyes, to see care and compassion. You, and your family eat your fill, and there is enough left to fill twelve baskets.

It seems to me that this feeding story in the gospel of John is a precursor to the feeding stories of our own families and church potlucks and meals. They are stories of abundance. When was the last time anyone went away hungry from your family potluck? When was the last time anyone went away hungry from a Trinity potluck? Even when it seems like there may not be enough, somewhere, somehow, there is enough, and usually more than enough.

Sometimes we want to complicate the gospel of John. Sometimes we want to say it’s all metaphor and symbol and therefore hard to understand. But I don’t think that is the case. I think it is exactly what it is. Jesus is the bread of life. Bread is an essential component of daily life in the ancient world, and Jesus is bread. Bread is a necessity for sustenance as a human being, and Jesus is bread. This is who Jesus is, this is who we recognize Jesus to be. Jesus is completely present with us, and Jesus was completely present to the boy who had the loaves and fishes, and the families Jesus feeds with the loaves and fishes.

So then, this is an invitation into a relationship with Jesus. Jesus invites us into this relationship through these feeding stories. Jesus invites us into this relationship each time we come to this table to eat and drink, bread and wine, body and blood. It’s our Episcopal altar call. Jesus invites us into this relationship each time we experience the boy with the loaves and fishes, the woman who asks for our prayers of thanksgiving or healing, the man who needs us to pray for his son, the children whose life is in chaos.

This is an invitation into a relationship with Jesus. And we recognize Jesus in our neighbors who don’t look like us, or think like us, or love like us, or speak like us, or pray like us, or vote like us. We recognize Jesus in our neighbors. Because God’s abundance is available to all.

And it cannot be accidental that the feeding of the five thousand is followed immediately by the story of Jesus walking on the sea. Jesus said to them, and says to us, “it is I; do not be afraid.” When it feels like we are losing more than we are gaining, when it seems like there is not enough, remember, in the breaking and the sharing of the bread, there is always enough, “it is I; do not be afraid.”

These stories from John not only describe the way God’s abundance was present then and is now; it also points us to the feast that is to come. This massive picnic in the wilderness is manna from heaven, the bread of angels. Our participation in the feeding of many today, our participation in God’s divine plenty and generosity today, does affect the Kingdom that will come. The story continues to show us that Jesus is the bread of life. Feeding people, their minds, their bodies and their spirits is what you are about here at Trinity. No one goes hungry, everyone is invited to the feast.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

9 Pentecost Yr B Proper 11 July 22 2018

9 Pentecost Yr B Proper 11 July 22 2018 Audio

Jesus said, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” And so they went.

I had the great gift of sabbatical a few years ago. I took three months away from the congregation and did some traveling. The first couple of weeks Rick and I, and Tom and Amanda, who were newly married, and Willie, who was newly graduated from college, went to Norway. We saw family, we saw spectacular fjords and mountains, and we stayed in some mighty fine places. The kids flew home, and Rick and I were in London, and then we traveled through Europe ending in Paris. We were with a group of people who turned into friends, and we saw beautiful sights, ancient ruins, and ate really well. Rick flew home from Paris, and I had a month, by myself. The first two months were highly planned, and rightly so when you want to make sure you do and see some very particular things. But I purposefully did not plan out my month by myself. I went where the Spirit led. So the deserted place for me was the Scottish Island called Iona. Iona is a thin place, it is a place where the land and the sky meet. It is a place where prayer has been placed throughout time. It is a place where sacred and secular dance. And it is a place where there are not many people, mostly sheep.

Have you been to a deserted place? It doesn’t have to be far away. In fact, I believe we are called to deserted places that are not far from home. Sometimes it is in the deserted place, the quiet place, where we may listen and know we are God’ beloved.

As you well know by now, Mark doesn’t waste any time getting down to business about Jesus, the Son of God, those are his very first words. Jesus is then baptized by John in the Jordan, and we hear “You are my beloved Son, I am well pleased.” And in an instant, Jesus is in the wilderness. I believe that event, and this excursion to the deserted place, are related. Between these two desert place stories, Jesus calls the disciples and sets about healing and teaching. Jesus calls out unclean spirits, Jesus heals a paralytic, a woman who was bleeding, a man with a withered hand, and a little girl. Jesus teaches about the kingdom of God. Jesus feeds five thousand with five fish and two loaves of bread, and Jesus walks on water. The disciples are in all of this with Jesus, and they need to rest.  

We don’t hear the feeding story, with five fish and two loaves of bread, nor do we hear the walking on water story this morning, but we know they are there. After the feeding story, Jesus goes off by himself to pray. And when evening came, Jesus saw that the disciples were in trouble on the water, and goes out to help them. The disciples thought Jesus was a ghost and they were terrified. That’s also what is left out of what we hear this morning, and we pick it up again when they all get to the other side of the lake. At this point people recognized Jesus, and wanted to touch Jesus, or at least the fringe of the cloak, and be healed. Remember the woman who was bleeding, she reached out her hand to touch the fringe of Jesus’ cloak and was healed.

This is a good news, bad news story. People were recognizing Jesus, they knew what Jesus could do, and what Jesus could do for them. The trouble it seems is that Jesus was beginning to feel closed in, torn apart, mobbed. Expectations of Jesus were rising, this man could heal, and so many needed to be healed. The disciples were beginning to feel afraid of what might happen. Just like at the very beginning, Jesus goes to a deserted place, a lonely place, but this time, Jesus invites the disciples to come.

I wonder if you’ve ever experienced what Jesus and the disciples might have been experiencing? Sometimes I feel like we live in a cacophony of noise, motion, input. With the world at our fingertips, we are bombarded with news and information from all over the world. It’s not all a bad thing, we create a community of prayer when we see the images of the young boys stuck in a cave and rescued from that danger. Or when we witness an explosion in Sun Prairie, and we can join in the prayers for all those people. Or when we see homes destroyed by tornadoes and storms and our prayers go to them. All of this information gives us opportunities to contribute our money when we are so moved.

But we also hear and see news and information that engenders fear and anxiety. The Mayhem guy has us convinced that at every occasion we need to be fearful of what will go wrong. Drug companies have us convinced that we’ll die if we don’t take their drugs, forgetting about the fact that we’ll die anyway. And your nightly news always leads with the disease, or the product, or the event that we must be scared of today.

But this Good News from Mark tells us a very different story. Jesus said, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” And so they went. Jesus makes this very same invitation to us. Come away to a deserted place. And yet, the deserted places are often the places we avoid and yet know somewhere deep down they are necessary places, truthful places. They are not just “time to get away” places. They are not just “we all need a break” places. They force us to recognize what’s necessary. What’s absolutely needed. And who will truly be there when everyone else walks away. And none of this is what we see and hear on our televisions and in our news today.

When I was away, on my own in Canterbury, Durham, Edinburgh, Iona, I listened. I found quiet places, sometimes deserted places, thin places, in the catacombs and the cathedrals, in the countryside and the seaside. And what spoke most loudly to me in the quiet, was this, “In the end only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.”

And so Jesus takes the disciples to a deserted place not just for a well-deserved respite, but to teach them what was learned in the wilderness -- and what will be essential for them to remember when it comes to their role in bringing about the Kingdom of God. Deserted places change our perspective. In the quiet places we have a chance to meet Jesus again. In the quiet places we have a chance to hear Jesus’ claim on our lives and our hearts. We are followers of Jesus. We are invited into the quiet places with Jesus so that we may hear Jesus’ call to us. Jesus says to us, you are my beloved, you are my beloved, and together we may build this Kingdom of God. Amen.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

8 Pentecost Proper 10 Yr B July 15 2018

8 Pentecost Proper 10 Yr B July 15 2018 Audio

Game of Thrones has nothing on Mark's gospel. Devious plots, fire breathing dragons, patricide, overthrowing kingdoms, unhealthy parent child relationships. I know you all think that your priest has an odd taste in literature, fantasy and science fiction being her favorite. But today I am vindicated, I get it all from reading scripture. Beheadings, suspect marriages, seductive dancing, etc. etc. etc. We’ll take a good look at what’s happening here, but I do want to assure you that there is some grace we can find in this story. This particular part of Mark’s story shows us what God’s kingdom does not look like. Because we know that God's kingdom is a banquet of mercy, so markedly in contrast to the birthday bash Herod throws himself that it's stunning.

I want to take some time first to show you what might be going on in the background of this story. Herodias is married to Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee. Herodias has been cradled in malevolence since her early days, as it was her grandfather, Herod Agrippa the 1st, who ordered the slaughter of the Holy Innocents after Jesus was born.

Herodias' daughter is Salome, thus Herod Antipas is Salome's stepfather. Her biological father is Herod Philip, Herodias' uncle and first husband. Are you keeping up here? Enter John the Baptist, criticizing Herod loudly and publicly for his adulterous and incestuous ways. So incensed is Herodias by John's shaming of Herod, and of her, that she wants John dead, as soon as possible. When Herod throws a birthday party for himself, the perfect opportunity arises.

There was probably much wine available. And a love of dance, it seems. Salome so mesmerizes Herod as she dances for his guests that he promises to give the girl anything she desires. Salome runs to Mama, asking her opinion. Get the head of John the Baptist, hisses Herodias. So Salome runs back to her stepfather, demanding the head of John the Baptist on a platter. And off came John's head.

What I value so much about really good storytelling is that the story is compelling, that the characters are developed and move the story through the plot. A good story has to have rich texture, conflict that is rudimental to the characters themselves, a quest to overcome and integrate that conflict, and for me, the story has to have redemption. What is redeeming in this story?

How do we understand this part of Mark's story? Violence for violence sake? They didn't have TV when Mark's story was first told, so probably not. Remember, Mark's story gets down to business from the get go. Mark wastes no time in telling us that an event has taken place that radically changes the way we look at and experience the world. The good news in Mark is that God is here right now, and on humanity’s side, actively seeking to help us in the way we most need help. Mark is in a hurry to tell us that the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus reveals the truth of God to us, so we can live in reality and not illusion. Mark doesn't want us to waste a minute of these precious lives of ours ignorant of this most practical of all matters, that God is passionate to love us.

In that light, what is Mark trying to do with this nasty story? It's not just gratuitous violence. This story is in the midst of a series of portrayals of Jesus; Mark is about the business of telling us who Jesus is. Jesus is God's son people, and this is what it looks like. God's kingdom is dawning and this is what it looks like. It looks like a leper who is healed. It looks like a man who couldn't walk, getting up and going home. It looks like hungry people getting fed. It looks like a Jesus movement in which Jesus' followers are sent out into the world to reflect the light that is so lovely that people want with all their hearts to know the source of it. 

And this particular piece of the story shows us what God's kingdom does not look like. Herod’s Kingdom – the kingdom of the world just like Game of Thrones and all the other dramas we watch because they mirror and amplify the values of our world – Herod’s kingdom is dominated by the will to power, the will to gain influence over others. This is the world where competition, fear and envy are the coins of the realm, the world of not just late night dramas and reality television but also the evening news, where we have paraded before us the triumphs and tragedies of the day as if they are simply givens, as if there is no other way of being in the world and relating to each other. 

This is not God's kingdom. God's kingdom is all the other stories that Mark tells. Jesus sends his disciples out in utter vulnerability, dependent on the hospitality and grace of others, to bring healing and mercy with no expectation of reward or return. God's kingdom is a banquet of mercy, so markedly in contrast to the birthday bash Herod throws himself that it's stunning. Rather than the rich and shameless, it’s the poor and outcast that flock to Jesus’ feeding of the thousands. Rather than political intrigue and power plays dominating the day, it’s blessing and surprising abundance that characterizes this meal.

Two kingdoms. The kingdom of illusion, fantasy, power, over against the kingdom of reality, in which the last will be first and the first will be last. Easy choice isn't it? The only thing that is clear is that this is a muddy, messy life. When we are faced with the nuanced choices that our lives demand, what to do is rarely easy or clear. Nothing is easy when it comes to the sacredness of human life, nothing is easy when it comes to treating each creation of God as a blessing, nothing is easy when it comes to equal access to health care, or education. Nothing is easy when systemic racism is laughed off with "get over it".

But, we are followers of Jesus, we are the Jesus movement today. Every decision we make, every crossroad we come to, needs to be approached with mercy, compassion, and love. Every person we encounter is God's beloved, you are God's beloved. What looks like loss in the kingdom of illusion is just that, an illusion. Jesus reveals power as illusion and on the cross embraces us with the reality that you, and me, and even Herod, are worth God's love and grace.

Nothing is easy, but what is clear is that Love wins. If it isn’t about Love it isn’t about God.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

7 Pentecost Proper 9 Yr B July 8 2018

7 Pentecost Proper 9 Yr B July 8 2018 Audio

It seems like a rather harsh story. Jesus has gone home to preach, and first the people are somewhat surprised, and then they quickly turn to “who is this guy, isn’t he just Mary and Joseph’s son?” “Hasn’t he gotten a bit full of himself, too big for his britches?” This is a story about the hometown boy making good, and I wonder if they aren’t just a little bit jealous. Jesus’ friends and neighbors turn away and unfortunately resist Jesus’ invitation into the grace and mercy that is offered.

But Mark’s reason for telling us this story isn’t just about that, I think it’s about something much more deep. Jesus invites us to partner in this ministry of love. Which means that each and every day we have before us the opportunity to be channels of grace and mercy to people and a world desperately in need of grace and mercy.

Mark continues to tell this tale of rejection. The people who are in the synagogue, Jesus’ hometown church, Jesus’ friends and neighbors, take offense and reject him. But in the quiet, the back rooms, the barns, Jesus continues to heal. And then they leave. What’s going on that makes him unwelcome, what’s going on that makes him say to the disciples “If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.”

Jesus instructs the disciples to go out into the villages and teach, taking nothing with them and accepting hospitality as it is offered, and if it is not offered, move on. Trapped in their comparisons and complaints, they are not remotely interested in receiving Jesus’ blessing. Even Jesus cannot believe it.

In a world so desperate for grace and mercy, why is this story here, why will the people not accept Jesus’ offer. Why would people kick them all out?

Sometimes we have trouble imagining ourselves as the ones in the pews when Jesus’ comes, and being the people who kick Jesus out of there. We would know Jesus, we would welcome Jesus, we would offer coffee and donuts and a bed to sleep on. And we would welcome Jesus’ disciples, wouldn’t we?

What’s going on here? Remember everything Jesus represents. Jesus offers grace and mercy, and with it comes a threat to the principalities and powers. Jesus’ message of love is a message that includes everyone. Jesus’ disciples are not the ones in power, Jesus’ disciples are not the well to do, Jesus’ disciples are fishermen. They stink like fish.

In our communities and our neighborhoods, we have a lot of trouble welcoming the ones that stink. We want them to be like us, well groomed, well fed, well moneyed. We want them to look like us and talk like us. We want to be able to know that their God is our God. And we really don’t want to be upset by any difference in belief, or culture.  

In this world where there is so much fear, it’s really hard to offer hospitality to those who we don’t know, or those who don’t come with a good recommendation, or those who have no where else to go. We are the ones, you see, who close our doors to stinking fishermen.

The good news in this story is that Jesus invites the disciples to partner in the ministry of love. Jesus tells them to travel light, and accept the hospitality that is offered. Jesus equips and commissions the disciples to carry on the ministry. They are now partners in ministry in a way they have not been up to this point in the story. And the instructions Jesus offers demonstrate the mutuality, even interdependence, of the disciples on those to and with whom they minister. They go out in pairs, because this work can’t be done alone. And they do not take their own provisions but rather depend on the hospitality of those they meet. And while some will receive them and be blessed, others will refuse their ministry and blessing.

And the good news in this story is that even in the face of rejection, even when the principalities and powers refuse the invitation to love, the invitation to grace and mercy that Jesus and the disciples offer, the offer continues to be made. Jesus does not recant, Jesus continues to bring love even when that love, and grace, and mercy, is rejected.

The good news for us is that Jesus invites us to partner in this ministry of love. Jesus invites us. And really, we are the stinky fishermen, and we are the well groomed. We are the very imperfect humans that are created in God’s image. We are the ones who are really good at loving one another, and we are the ones who miss the mark mightily on many days. We are the ones who are broken, and we are the ones who are healed in the bread that is the body that is broken for us.

And the good news for us is that our actions matter. Not as works that earn God’s favor but as a response to God’s holy invitation. God has chosen us in Baptism, not only for salvation but also for purposeful, consequential lives here and now, and each day we have a choice between resisting God’s activity or partnering with God’s intent and action to bless and care for God’s world.

We are the ones who bear love, mercy and grace into all the places we find ourselves: our homes, our work, our schools. We are the ones who break down the barriers between us and them, We are the ones who seek out those who will listen to the words of God’s love for everyone, we are the ones who love compassionately and fail miserably in the short sightedness of our compassion.

What we do matters. Jesus invites us to partner in the ministry of love, and we are equipped to be agents of love, of grace, and of mercy.

I heard a story this week. There’s a woman, whose sister-in-law came to stay. The woman, we’ll call her Gladys, and her sister-in-law, we’ll her Ethel, couldn’t be more different. Ethel has no time for those who are down on their luck, addicted, homeless. Ethel thinks that those people should just get a job or get lost. Gladys, on the other hand, volunteers at the homeless shelter. She makes friends and builds relationships with people who look like they are very different from her, but in the end, are not so different at all. Gladys had a fellow who lives at the homeless shelter over to her house to help her do some work around the house, and then to drive him to a doctor’s appointment. Before it was time to get going to the appointment, Ethel found herself sitting in the living room talking with the fellow, just about this and that. As Gladys was getting ready to take her guest to his doctor’s appointment, Ethel got up to set the table for dinner. Gladys noticed there was an extra place set.

What we do matters. Jesus invites us to partner in the ministry of love, and we are equipped to be agents of love, of grace, and of mercy. Love does indeed, win. Amen.

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...