Saturday, October 27, 2018

23 Pentecost Proper 25 Yr B Oct 28 2018

We take up with the gospel of Mark again in the shadow of Jerusalem, on the way to the cross. We've been on this road for a while now, partners with those in the story who are also on the way. Before the followers of Jesus were called Christians, they were, as we are, people of the way. This story of the blind Bartimaeus is the last story of Jesus’ ministry before the cross, the passion, and resurrection. I think this story of Bartimaeus is in stark contrast to the story that we heard last week, the story about James and John. James and John ask Jesus for power and status, Bartimaeus asks Jesus for healing. God lavishes love on them all, Jesus calls them as followers, and yet each of them must let go of something they’ve been holding on to live fully free, fully alive.

"What do you want me to do for you?" Jesus asks Bartimaeus, it’s the same question that Jesus asked James and John only a moment ago in the story, and that we talked about last Sunday. But the gulf between the request that James and John make, and the request Bartimaeus makes is cavernous. James and John were somewhat confused remember, they ask Jesus for power, they think the kingdom is about a seating chart. But Bartimaeus, Bartimaeus asks to see. Nothing like the power and status, the place at the table that James and John were all about, and what’s more is that Bartimaeus wasn’t even officially a disciple.

Imagine Bartimaeus, sitting in the road, probably at the main gate of Jericho, day after day, all day, in the hot sun, begging. But Bartimaeus knows who Jesus is, he’s listened to the talk, he calls out to Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me. Let me see.

Two things here that are so unlike the James and John story, or the story of the rich young man, which we also heard a couple weeks ago. First, the request, have mercy on me, heal me. Second, the ramifications of that healing, what it means to follow Jesus.
Have mercy on me, Bartimaeus asked, mercy. You know what mercy means? A heart for other peoples troubles. Bartimaeus was asking Jesus to have a heart for his troubles. That’s all, hear me, see me, and if you’ve got it in you, heal me. And that’s what Jesus did, Jesus heard him, Jesus saw him, and having a heart for his trouble, Jesus healed Bartimaeus.

So once Bartimaeus is healed, what does he do? Bartimaeus’ profession is begging. Once he is healed, his life is changed, he can’t go on begging anymore, so he follows Jesus. Just like the others, he gets up and follows. Bartimaeus exchanges a life of begging, a life of blindness, for this life of following Jesus. And you and I know where that’s going, straight to the cross.

No matter how much we think we have, no matter our wealth, our status, our power; no matter what we think we don’t have, our lack of health, our lack of wealth, our lack of support, we leave it all behind when we follow Jesus. We get so wrapped up in our own shortcomings, or we spend so much time valuing our worth by what others think is important, that we forget that we are God’s beloveds, and we forget to have mercy, a heart for other people’s troubles.

Jesus calls us to follow, Jesus calls us to surrender things that poison us, or things that keep us from seeing what is around us, Jesus calls us to be merciful, to have a heart for other people’s troubles.  Jesus' call to us, the call to be followers, is to open ourselves up, to surrender the stuff that insulates us from our neighbors, to let Love win. Being healed isn't easy for us. Last night, I had the privilege of hearing Anne Lamott talk about her new book, Almost Everything, Notes on hope, and all her wisdom really, Anne said, “when you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired, it’s time to surrender.” Being healed is like that; it’s finally recognizing your loveliness in Jesus’ eyes and finally letting yourself be loved, and finally letting go whatever it is you’re sick and tired of, because you can’t control it anyway.

But there is risk involved in being healed. There is risk involved in letting Jesus change you. Life will never, can never be the same. Out of what seems like death, letting go sometimes feels like death, comes resurrection. We cling so desperately to that which we believe is our identity, no matter how healthy or unhealthy; it's nearly impossible to give that up to an identity as beloved of God. Letting go of what we believe defines us to take on our true identity as God’s beloved, is hard. But unless and until we let die what is killing us, we can never be healed, we will never be transformed into the new person in Christ. The Good News is that when we make room for Love to interrupt our precisely organized patterns, we make room for Love to change our path; we make room to go home by a different way. And there will be new life in ways we can hardly begin to imagine.

Bartimaeus is called, and healed, and follows Jesus. But the journey to the cross is as difficult as it is exhilarating; following Jesus is not for the feint of heart. It was only a very short period of time between Bartimaeus being healed, being restored to the community, and Jesus’ passion, suffering, death and resurrection. But the good news is that we are all in this life together. The good news is that we are capable of mercy and love. The good news is seeing, seeing, the grace, the joy, the wonder, in all that life throws at us. Unlike Bartimaeus and the others, we know the end of the story. We know that resurrection happens. We know that life always wins over death. We know that we are part of resurrection. There is hope.

Following Jesus is not about having the right answers; it’s not about being perfect. Following Jesus is seeing healing right in front of us; following Jesus is having a heart for other people’s troubles. Following Jesus is being transformed, being changed; becoming the creation that God calls us to be. Following Jesus is loving our neighbor, our neighbors who don’t look like us or worship like us.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

22 Pentecost Proper 24 Yr B Oct 21 2018

 Teacher, we have something we want you to do for us, James and John ask Jesus. Arrange it, they say, so that we will be awarded the highest places of honor in your glory - one of us at your right, the other at your left. James and John ask Jesus for something Jesus has shown no desire to give, placing some above others. Or giving some more or better attention. But Jesus’ love for us, God’s beloveds, isn’t like that. Jesus’ love for us, God’s beloveds, washes over all of us, no matter who we are, how much money we make, the kind of house we live in or maybe we don’t even have a house.  Jesus’ love for us, God’s beloveds, washes over all of us no matter what.

This misunderstanding follows the third time in Mark’s story Jesus tells the disciples the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and will be condemned to death. The trouble is that all the disciples, even though this is the third time they’ve heard Jesus say this, find this news astounding, alarming, and frightening. And equally as astounding, I think it causes James and John especially, and the others as well, to be confused about their own calling, and who Jesus is. James and John seem to think this is about seating order at a party, not life in God's kingdom. They don’t seem to remember that Jesus has just taught them about laying down their life, or about what greatness looks like, or the words about being last of all and servant of all. And so Jesus has to tell them again. Jesus says, this is hard, are you willing to accept that? Are you willing to drink the cup I will drink? Are you willing to be in this all the way to the end? Are you willing to receive my love, my gift, for your freedom? Because, Jesus’ love for us, God’s beloveds, washes over all of us no matter what.

Aren’t we a lot like James and John though? If Jesus were anything like me, and thank goodness he’s not, Jesus would say to James and John, since when did you think this was about you? Since when did you think this is about your power, your prestige, your privilege? Since when did we think this was about us? It’s about Jesus’ love for us, and we are God’s beloveds, but so often we loose our way, we get frightened or confused about our calling as citizens of God’s kingdom, and we forget who Jesus is.
Jesus, I have something I want you to do for me. I want you to grant my wish for a better job, a bigger house, a wonderful spouse. I want you to get me out of this mess I'm in. I want you to make sure that with this investment I make a lot of money. With this ticket, just make sure I win the lottery. Jesus, I know you can do this for me, and if you do, I will be a better person. I will give ten percent away. I will never again use your name in vain. Just give me the power Jesus, and all will be well. Just leave it up to me Jesus, and I will judge who gets what.
I think this is a dialogue that is playing out in our world today. You’ve got to make the most money, you’ve got to have the most important job, you’ve got to, sing, dance, play better than anyone else…. so that you will be noticed, so that you’ll receive power and prestige and privilege? It’ll drive you crazy. And this race to the best plays out in our community lives as well as our personal lives. And it results in disregard for those whose lives are not filled with big houses and big jobs and big money. I think this is at the root of our political impasse as well. It is the question about who deserves to get what?
As long as we work hard and make money we deserve the big house and nice car. We deserve to have what we have, we deserve that place of pride with James and John.

But that’s not what Jesus’ love looks like. Jesus’ love for us, God’s beloveds, washes over all of us no matter what. The call that James and John seem to be missing is really right there in front of them, and is really good news, whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Dwight Zscheile, in a book titled People of the Way writes, "In the household of God, no one can claim privilege of place; we are all adopted children by our baptism." Jesus asks James and John if they are willing to dive into the water with him. "The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized." Jesus’ journey in the gospel of Mark began in the waters of the Jordan, in baptism, and that journey will be to the cross and resurrection. The grace in this story is that Jesus is the one who comes and shows the way of love, Jesus shows the way of vulnerability all the way to the cross. You see, speaking and acting in terms of who deserves what, who deserves health care or housing or hospitality, who deserves eternal life, who deserves to be on Jesus’ right hand, are so beside the point. The grace in this story is that Jesus, with his very life, death, and resurrection, puts himself in our place, in your place, and in my place, and says, everyone of you is worth my love.
Jesus’ love for us, God’s beloveds, washes over all of us no matter what.

You are God’s beloved. We are baptized into Jesus' life, suffering, death, and resurrection. Taking Jesus' cup is about diving into the waters of our own baptism, waters that bring the dead to life, waters that fill an empty soul, waters that give a heart the only thing worth living, and worth dying for. We get completely wet in these holy waters. There is grace in diving in to the waters of baptism, and receiving the unconditional, undeserved, underrated love that is God’s love. When we take the cup that Jesus drinks, when we are washed with the waters of baptism, we, God’s beloveds, are called to respond to Jesus’ love, with love. We are called not to the seat of power, but to the posture of service. And our lives are made new, our lives are transformed, our lives become the wave of change. The wave of change, the wave of love, the wave of mercy, the wave of kindness. During bible study on Friday mornings, we often wonder about what God’s word calls us to, what Jesus’ love asks of us. More often than not we share stories of kindness, the kind of kindness that inspires you to pay for the groceries for the person in front of you, the kind of kindness that inspires you to pay for the order for the person behind you in the drive up at McDonalds, the kind of kindness that inspires you to deliver meals on wheels, or make breakfast at the men’s shelter, or bring cereal when the cereal shelves are empty.
You do these things without ever knowing if the person you are serving agrees with you on anything, you do these things without ever knowing if the person you are serving needs it or not, you do these things because Jesus’ love washes over all of us, no matter what. And what a wave it is. Amen.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

21 Pentecost Proper 23 Yr B Oct 14 2018

Of all the come to Jesus meetings throughout the last two thousand and fifteen years, this one was probably the first. This earnest young man wants to hear from Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Wouldn't you like to know that too? Wouldn't you like to sit down with Jesus and find out just exactly what you must do to have eternal life? No more guessing, no more praying that you do the right thing, no more "if I do this God I'd like you to do that," but a clear and concise list that you can check off. Absolute certainty about what it takes to have life after death.

Jesus' first response to this young man is to tell him to follow the law. And this earnest young man reminds Jesus that he is a good Jewish boy and has been following the law since his youth. At this point I imagine Jesus taking a deep breath and gathering his spirit together. Jesus looks at him and loves him, and thinks this is not a bad guy, and Jesus says, "You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." The truth is that each one of us gathered here today is that earnest young man. If we have a roof over our heads, if we have a car to drive no matter what shape it's in, if we have shoes for our feet, if we have food to eat for lunch, we are this young man.

And then Jesus goes on to describe the reality that the disciples live in, and the reality that you and I live in. The disciples ask, "who can be saved?" And Jesus answers, it isn't about you at all, it isn't about your wealth or even your poverty, it is not about what you look like, it's not about who you're related to, it's not even about how much you give to or help others. Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but not for God, for God all things are possible."  What Jesus is saying is that rich or poor, old or young, gay or straight, democrat or republican, we are all on this rock together, and none of us get out of this live alive. We can do absolutely nothing to earn, deserve, or in any way change the fact of God's amazing and abundant love. There is no checklist for salvation. Love wins. This is an invitation to not look for salvation in your stuff. So stop trying to win God's love, stop trying to earn God's love, it can't be done, it is impossible for us. But all things are possible for God. The invitation is to live as God's beloved.

So in scripture, when we hear "give all you have to the poor," when we hear "clothe the naked, feed the hungry," we realize that that is how we respond to God's amazing grace, we pour out our love for all those whom God loves. This is at the core of being a follower of Jesus, this is discipleship. And the promise is that when you give it all away, whatever it is, you will not be bereft, you will not be left with nothing. The promise is that when you give it all away, whatever it is, Love wins. When you give it all away, you are filled with that which only Jesus has. You will be soaked in God's love, you will be filled with the spirit, you will be re-membered in the body of christ, you will be transformed.

So what keeps us from giving it all away? What is it that is so important to us that we are willing to give up a life in relationship with Jesus, for a life in relationship with all of our stuff? One of the answers is that we are afraid. We are afraid to risk, we are afraid to live our lives fully alive in the love of Christ. We protect what we have, rather than live as a citizen of the kingdom.

So here's a story about a man who had to face his own fear, fear that caused him to work so hard and long it almost cost his marriage. Millard Fuller is the founder of Habitat for Humanity International, an organization that many of you know about. Millard Fuller was a millionaire by the age of 29, and had experienced the "American Dream." He made it his life's work to pass that dream on, especially through his work with Habitat for Humanity International. This need to serve came upon him when he almost lost his family and his health to the rigors and pressures of the business world.

Fuller's wife abruptly left him at a time he was working too hard and too much. He followed his wife to New York and together they had many soul-searching conversations. The couple finally decided they would sell almost everything they owned. They returned home to Montgomery, Alabama to "sell their home and give away their possessions, donating the proceeds to mission projects worldwide and church-related organizations." Fuller also sold out his share of his business to his partner, and donated the proceeds of that sale to humanitarian causes.

Eventually, the Fullers decided to start a housing partnership plan which would build small houses on plots of land one half-acre each. The homes were to be sold to poor, rural families. Additionally, their faith dictated they follow the biblical edict in Exodus 22:25: "If you lend money to any of my people who are poor among you, you shall not be like a moneylender to him; you shall not charge him interest." The money would come from Linda Fuller's business, as well as charitable donations, interest-free loans from donors, and later, small mortgage payments from the homeowners themselves.

Fuller later commented, "We want to make shelter a matter of conscience. We want to make it socially, politically, morally, and religiously unacceptable to have substandard housing and homelessness." They founded Habitat for Humanity International, an organization that was to raise money and recruit volunteers to build homes for those in need. Habitat homes are sold to families or individuals living in substandard housing who do not earn enough to buy a home through conventional channels. Some people mistakenly believe that Habitat gives people free homes, but as a Habitat volunteer commented, "We give away nothing but a great opportunity." A small down-payment is required, as is a low monthly mortgage. The mortgage payments go into a fund that perpetuates the program. Additionally, all buyers invest a set number of labor hours in their own home. Fuller calls this "sweat equity" and points out that it builds a sense of pride and ownership in the individuals.

You are already God's beloved, so this isn't about earning your way to heaven. Lay down your fear, and live your live, fully alive, fully immersed in God's love.  How do you respond to God’s love in your life? Many of you give of your time, you give of your talent. Many of you give to non-profits like Habitat, you give to public radio, or the salvation army, or to the GIFTS Men’s Shelter, and so many other fine place. I know Rick and I do. I want you to be giving to your church as well, your church, Trinity, needs to be one of the top three non-profits you give to. What ever it is, however much it can be, find ways to respond to God's abundant and amazing love with all your heart, all your soul and all your strength. Give all that you are and all that you have to bear God's reconciling message, the Good News of God's love. For nothing is impossible in God. Amen.

Feast of Pentecost Yr A May 31 2020 (Sunday after the murder of George Floyd, riots in Minneapolis)

YouTube video Feast of Pentecost Yr A May 31 2020 (Sunday after the murder of George Floyd, riots in Minneapolis) Acts 2:1-21, 1 Co...