Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Christmas 2019

Audio   Christmas 2019
Isaiah 9:2-7, Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2:1-20, Psalm 96
Isaiah 62:6-12, Titus 3:4-7, Luke 2:1-20, Psalm 97

Many of you know we recently had our first grandchild. Elijah. Elijah means, my God is Yahweh. What a wonderful child he is, the cutest and happiest I know. Remember when your baby was born? We all have stories about our baby’s birth, or the day and circumstances of adopting. When we tell those stories we often have a bit of a bias. When I’m with a first-time pregnant mom, I usually talk about how wonderful the births were. But I leave the details of pain, and long labor, and exhaustion for when I’m talking to a well-seasoned mom.

I think the nativity passage from Luke is something like that, the writer has left out a lot of details. Like all the details, no pushing, or pain, no mess, no exhaustion. Except one, one detail. Mary swaddled her baby. Mary wrapped her baby in bands of cloth. Swaddling is an age-old practice of wrapping infants in blankets or similar cloths so that movement of the limbs is tightly restricted. Our kids call swaddling a “baby burrito.” A blanket wrapped snuggly around a baby’s body can resemble the mother’s womb and help soothe a newborn baby. What a lavishing love Mary shows.

I understand why the gospel writer Luke has left out all the other details, it’s not his birth story. It’s Mary’s. Mary would have told us about how uncomfortable she was making that journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem when she was 9 months pregnant, ready at any moment for this birth that was so surprising, so unexpected, so fearfully awesome. Mary would have told us about knocking on the doors of the homes in Bethlehem, small structures, with a room for all the animals to be taken in at night, with a manger, a feeding box for the animals, and a space nearby for the whole family to sleep. Mary would have told us that there were so many people in Bethlehem that she and Joseph had trouble finding someplace to lay down and rest. Mary would have told us about those who finally took them in, let them stay with their animals that were also in for the night.

Mary would have told us that the birth came quickly, much more quickly than she had expected. And that by the time the baby was born she was exhausted, and messy, and nestled in for the night with the animals. Mary would have told us that she knew this child, Mary would have told us that she knew someday her heart would break.

So Mary took what she had, some bands of cloth, and Mary swaddled her baby, her baby Jesus. She wrapped him up, comforted him, nursed him. She held him to herself, she whispered in his ear, she sang to him and she knew, as every mother knows, that her heart was now exposed to the world to be broken.

This was an ordinary birth, a salt of the earth birth, a birth attended by livestock, and people these parents hardly knew. This was an ordinary birth, these were ordinary parents, they didn’t have much, but they had enough; today we may even describe them as poor. Also in attendance were the shepherds, and along with Mary and Joseph they have a front-row seat to welcome the good news of great joy for all the people. You know that shepherds were, well, undesirable. They lived outside all the time, guarding sheep from wolves and thieves, guiding them to suitable pasture. A younger son for whom there was no hope of inheriting the family farm, might become a shepherd, as would a man who for some reason was not suitable for marriage. It was among these that Jesus’ birth was first celebrated.

But the attendance of angels alerts us to the reality that this was also an extraordinary birth, a totally unreasonable, inconceivable, glorious impossible birth. The angels alerted the shepherds to this birth, and they alert us to this birth, and they alert all of creation to this birth. Because not only is there a baby born in Bethlehem, of ordinary people in an ordinary way, but there is a baby born in Bethlehem that changes the world. As Mary held her newly born son, she also holds all possibility, all love, and all creation waits as God’s dream blossoms.

God’s dream for creation is born in Jesus, on that day, on this day, and on each day we choose to follow. Jesus is born in us. God’s dream for us is much like Mary’s dream for her child. God’s dream for us is much like your dream for your child, and those whom you love. And love for a child is a lot like having your heart exposed to the wills of the world. Our hearts break in pain, and our hearts soar with joy, as does God’s, I believe.

God’s dream for us is to love one another, God’s dream for us is to serve one another, God’s dream for us is to forgive one another. We live in a world that is at times messy, hateful, imperfect. We bring our whole self’s to this space, often messy, sometimes hateful, always imperfect. And this baby born in Bethlehem, near a very messy manger, to a very young mother who may not have known much about motherhood, but who wrapped her baby tight and loved him, this baby who is God with us, accepts us with all of our imperfections, and loves us perfectly. We are not unlike Mary and Joseph, searching for a place to be home and give birth. Mary and Joseph and the shepherds, all of these, for whom there was no room, find room in Jesus. We find love, a love that is compassionate, and merciful, and just. May we, here at Trinity church, always be a home for those who like the shepherds, have no other home, may we always welcome each one of God’s children home.

This child who arrives in the ordinary way, becomes a home for humanity. This child who arrives in the ordinary way welcomes us home and heals us, puts us back together when we are broken. This child in whom God’s dream is made real, whose birth is impossible and unreasonable. Because remember, it is not for reason that God comes to be with us and all of creation, it is for love.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Fourth Sunday in Advent Yr A Dec 22 2019

Audio   Fourth Sunday in Advent Yr A Dec 22 2019
Isaiah 7:10-16, Romans 1:1-7, Matthew 1:18-25, Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18

Here we are, the fourth Sunday in Advent, ever so close to incarnation, God with us, Emmanuel. Ever so close to the completion of God’s arc toward love, and mercy, and compassion. And even though we celebrate again and so very soon, the birth of the baby born in Bethlehem, the birth of the Messiah, we continue to wait. We continue to wait for the completion, the fulfillment, the promise, that God will bring all creation to Godself. We hear that promise in the collect for today, “Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a dwelling prepared for himself.”

Matthew’s story of Jesus’ birth is so very different from Luke’s. Luke gives us the story from Mary’s perspective; Matthew tells the story from Joseph’s perspective. And Mark and John don’t include a birth story at all. In Matthew’s story, Mary is pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Joseph could have had her publicly ridiculed and even stoned, but being a just man, decides to part ways with her quietly. But Joseph listened to an angel, who told him that this baby is the fulfilment of all of the yearning and all of the stories that Joseph knew, this child is Emmanuel, God with us. And Joseph knew, that in this child to be called Jesus, God comes to be right where we are. Matthew also tells us later in his story of the promise that Jesus will be with the people to the end of the age. Matthew looks to all of the stories of his people that came before him and sees in those stories this promise of God’s fulfillment, that God will and does dwell with God’s people.

Matthew’s perspective points us in the direction of the coming of Christ, the climax of creation. Advent puts us in the midst of celebrating the birth, incarnation, God coming to be right where we are, and the fulfillment of all things, the completion of the arc of God’s love for all of creation. It is all right here in front of us, and yet we forget. We forget that this story of God with us, is a story that is full of cosmic consequences. It is a story about new birth, incarnation, and it is a story about now, and not yet. Advent calls us to consider this reality. Alongside of the romantic versions of a baby and angels, is the appearance of one whom the reaction is, “do not be afraid.”

I think we have been trained to be afraid or anxious. Afraid of the end of times. Anxious when we must wait. We either avoid the stories in scripture, or we become afraid of them, or we pass them off as the visions of a stark raving madman. And we live in a culture that teaches us to be afraid of so much. Be afraid of change, be afraid of the madman who stalks in the night, be afraid of the unknown man who will scam you. Be afraid of what you cannot control, be afraid of the weather, be afraid of the additives in your food, be afraid of your neighbor. In a world that makes us afraid at every turn, every angel that appears begins with, “do not be afraid.”

But because Advent gives us time to be present in the then, the now, and the not yet, and presents us with stories that point us both to birth and growth and to the end of time, we enter into this most uncomfortable of places, and wonder what it may be all about. We rest in the in between, counting on transformation, growth, and just like pregnancy, we will be forever changed.

I think many of you have read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by CS Lewis, or at least seen a movie, but I’m fairly sure that many have not read all the way to the end of that series of stories, The Last Battle. Time, in these stories, is best described as Kairos, rather than Chronos. Chronos being time measured in seconds, minutes, hours, days, years, it is measurable and quantifiable. Kairos is not, it may be defined as God’s time. You’ve all experienced it, in a very limited way. It’s when heaven and earth meet, and we don’t really have the words to describe it. It’s why we have poetry, and music, and art, and science fiction novels, because we have no other way to be in God’s time.

The collection of stories by CS Lewis that begins with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and ends with The Last Battle is called The Chronicles of Narnia. Narnia is the land that is real, it is Kairos, God’s time. Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, children living in war time London, all travel to Narnia and eventually meet Aslan, the great lion. Aslan is the lion who is put to death by the wicked White Queen and is resurrected to love the children and all the talking animals. Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy reign as benevolent kings and queens until they return through the wardrobe to Chronos, as if they had never left. Throughout the stories there are other characters, Lady Polly and Lord Digory, Eustace and Jill, all whom have lived in the other world of Narnia. And there are the Calormenes, those who live in Narnia, but who do not follow Aslan, they follow Tash.

Eustace and Jill are in Narnia, they find the King, Tirian, and the Last Battle ensues. It is a battle between the followers of Tash, and the followers of Aslan. As the battle rages on, Eustace, Jill, and King Tirian walk through a door to a stable, afraid of who is in it, and enter a place of grace and beauty. Just before them, a dreaded Calormene had entered, along with the trolls, and they were unsure if they should be afraid. The world beyond the door to the stable is light and filled with beauty, unlike the dark world Narnia had become. Soon enough, our characters meet up with the others, Peter, Edmund, Lucy, Polly, and Digory, and learn that they had all been in a train wreck, and this is life on the other side of life. This is the end of time, and the beginning of time.

Aslan, the great lion came to them, and all were welcome at the great feast. But most importantly, for our conversation today, is this. The Calormenes had served Tash, the Narnians had served Aslan. The Glorious One who appeared to them all called them all Beloved. All of their waiting, all of their expectation, all of their hopes, and dreams, and fears were born in the truth that they had come home at last. Their new lives were just beginning. The land had become more real and more true.

The Last Battle is won by the love that is born in Bethlehem, the love that hangs on the cross, and the love that calls all creation to itself.

You see, Advent is real and true time in which we are called beloved, in which we come closest to realizing the glorious impossible of incarnation, the unreasonableness of God with us, the awesomeness of the fulfillment of God’s dream for creation; not to be feared but to be anticipated. We live as if Chronos is less important than Kairos. We wait in quiet expectation; we prepare the mansion in which Jesus resides. Let us, along with Mary and Joseph, bear the love that wins into the world. Amen.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Third Sunday of Advent Yr A Dec 15 2019

Audio   Third Sunday of Advent Yr A Dec 15 2019
Isaiah 35:1-10, James 5:7-10, Matthew 11:2-11, Psalm 146:4-9

We come to the place, on this third Sunday of Advent, when God’s revelation is made fully real in Jesus. A new age is dawning. You and I live in the midst of this arc of God’s fulfillment. Remember, Advent is a gift whereby we live into the then, now, and not yet of God’s mercy and justice. We don’t know much really about what the completion of the arc may look like, but we have lots of ideas. We read throughout our sacred scripture what fulfillment, completion, end times, may look like. We see that completion depicted in artwork, and movies. And you know I see it in the world building of novels. We’ll get to that in just a bit, for now, let’s look at John and Jesus.

In Matthew’s gospel, John the baptizer, who is now in prison, sends messengers to Jesus, to determine for himself that this is in fact the Messiah, the one for whom they have been waiting. There is a question about that, because in John’s opinion, Jesus surely did not look or act like the Messiah.

The expectations for Messiah were that this one would come in power, and set up a new kingdom, restore Israel and throw out the Romans, and clean up the temple. And, to be fair, there were varying expectations of what this anointed one, in the line of David, would do or be. Would the Messiah be a warrior? or a man of peace? But you begin to see what is happening here, Jesus did not look like or act like the expected Messiah, and even John, who prepares the way, wonders if Jesus is really the one.

Jesus says about himself, “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” This is what Jesus is doing, and it doesn’t look anything like what was expected. It becomes clear that Jesus can’t win here. On one side he’s got the temple priests disappointed and even up in arms, that the claims that Jesus is Messiah are not very promising. And, those same people are afraid because everything he does and says incites the Roman officials.

But for those who have been brought low, those who will listen and follow, Jesus is the healer. Throughout Matthew’s story Jesus heals a leper, a paralytic, Jairus’s daughter and the woman hemorrhaging, gives sight to the blind man, casts out demons, returns a withered hand to health, and so much more. This is one who brings God’s healing and wholeness to God’s people, this is one who resists evil in the world.

Jesus, the Messiah, the anointed one, who doesn’t act anything like one in power, but instead, empowers the powerless. The baby, born in a barn, not the towers of power, will model another way. Poor people mattered to Jesus. Jesus is building a world that reverses generally accepted values by opposing evil. Jesus is God’s revelation, in all times and all places. With Jesus’ coming a new age has dawned.

I want to pick up our storytelling conversation and other world building with a story that I think many of you have read or seen. In the Hunger Games, Katniss is our unaware hero. The world that is built in this story exists in the ruins of a place once known as North America. It is the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV. The people of District 12 are starving, the rations they get are inadequate and nearly not eatable. Katniss learned early from her father how to breach the fence that keeps them captive, and hunt with a bow and arrow, and collect greens and berries to supplement her family’s food.

Katniss is the tribute from District 12, the furthest outlying district as far as she knows. Katniss’ younger sister was actually the tribute chosen by chance, but Katniss put herself in the place of her sister, surely to die. The other tribute is Peeta, the son of the bread baker. Katniss is sure, that when she was younger, it was bread from his father’s bakery, purposefully burnt and thrown out in the trash that saved her and her family.

Katniss and Peeta are whisked away to the Capitol, to be shaped into the tributes that could garner support when tossed into the arena to battle to the death the tributes from the other districts. But Katniss begins to realize that to save herself, her real self, not just her life and Peeta’s, that she must resist the evilness of those who devise the game, and she must resist the power of the empire of Panem. This is the evil that dehumanizes, evil that is voyeuristic and that revels in the meanness of people. In the resistance, she and Peeta begin to shape a new world, a world in which the powerless are empowered, the hungry get fed. Katniss and Peeta inaugurate a new thing, a beginning that raises up the lowly and gives hope in a very dark world.

Our sacred stories that describe the arc of God’s love all the way from the incarnation, God in the flesh, Jesus, to all of the scenarios that imagine the end of times, apocalypse, always include resistance. The Book of Revelation, that which seems so scary to us, could rightly be called The Book of Resistance. It inspires the people for whom it was written to resist the evil that would oppress, the evil that would dehumanize, the evil that would try to convince us that death is the final word. But, death is not the final word, and we do not live in an ideal world. To be alive in Jesus is to face at every turn the destructive reality of violence, and to resist it, as Jesus does in life and on the cross. And to be alive in Jesus is to side with vulnerable children in defiance of adults who see them as expendable.

Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed one. And the kingdom that God inaugurates in the birth, the life, the death and the resurrection of Jesus is a kingdom in which love is the first cause. It is love that empowers human beings, you and me, to resist darkness. It is love that empowers us to feed one another with the bread of compassion, the bread of mercy, the bread that is broken for us.

We too are called to resistance. We are called to speak the truth of God’s love, God in the flesh, with our voices and our bodies. We are called to stand up on behalf of those who have no voice. It is not death that has the final word, it is new life, it is hope.

Resist during this Advent. Resist the rush, the chaos, the overspending, all that steals our sacredness. Resist being pulled into stress by what is happening around us. Resist the impulse to be overwhelmed by the harsh news we hear, resist turning your eyes down when the one who is hungry, tired, in prison looks you in the eye. Resist the darkness, let the light shine.

Feed the world, or at least your small part of it, with the bread of life. Feed the world with the love that comes to us in the quiet of this new birth. 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...