Saturday, March 30, 2019

4 Lent Yr C March 31 2019

Audio  4 Lent Yr C March 31 2019
Joshua 5:9-12, 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32, Psalm 32

A man had two sons.... was a common way to begin a parable. There are other parables in the Hebrew tradition that begin this way, not just the one we have in front of us today. When the gospel writers began in this way, you and I who are hearers of the story are clued in right away to the type of prose we will hear. A parable is a particular form of prose. Although it is like narrative, it is not exactly narrative, it doesn’t tell a story in a straightforward sort of way, although it is definitely part of the bigger story. The purpose of a parable is to surprise you, even to shock you. Jesus often says something outrageous, or tells about something that doesn’t seem on the surface to make much sense. We also know a parable when we hear one because it tells us something about Kingdom living.

This particular parable is quite familiar. Often we jump straight to the place of deciding that this is about the younger son who has squandered all of his inheritance and has been bad, or maybe we even identify with the younger son. And we are quick to label ourselves or people in our lives as prodigal son. But if we make that jump too quickly, we will miss so much that is surprising in this parable. First of all, we miss what prodigal means. Prodigal means exuberant and lavish, excessive and extravagant. Prodigal describes the son because he has been extravagant in spending his inheritance. Prodigal also describes the father because he is extravagant in his love toward both his sons. The younger son was extravagant in his spending and ended up in the worst possible position of shame and brought shame on his family as well. 

Or, we jump too quickly to identifying with the older son. The one who followed all the rules, the one who understood duty to family and responsibility. The one who worked hard all his life only to have his little brother get the big party after having squandered everything and living hard and fast. He was the one who really wished that rewards should go to only those who earn them. The one who at his very worst moments envies his younger brother for all the fun and excitement he had and that the older brother missed out on. The one who is mad at his father for even acknowledging the younger son was still alive, after all that he had done. The one who fails to recognize that the father is always on his side and he need not earn his father’s approval. 

Maybe we even jump too quickly to identifying with the father. The father who raised his kids as best he could and who now has to put up with an older one who doesn’t know how good he’s got it, and a younger one who takes advantage of everyone and everything. This father’s behavior is shocking. First, he runs out to meet the son who left and squandered everything, giving up all semblance of honor that he may have had left by this time. Then, when the elder son chews out his father in the totally immediate and full view of all gathered to celebrate, the father once more responds graciously, saying even in front of the whole village that the kind of father he is must celebrate and rejoice when the lost are found. The father of the parable celebrates every measure of resurrection, of life from death, without pausing to judge whether the one given life deserved it, or what the consequences are for village or cosmic justice, or even how the loyal will respond. He just hopes that those who profess loyalty to him will follow his example.

But today I propose something different, something that may be true for all of us. I propose that you, and me, we’ve got both these brothers inside us. The responsible one and the prodigal one. The one who always followed all the rules, and the one who is or at the least wants to be exuberant and lavish. It is an uneasy coexistence made harder by the reality that none of these people is perfect, and that all of them make real mistakes, just like we do. This is where I think the truth of this parable is, we are imperfect people, perfectly loved by a God who freely chooses us. God continually chooses God’s people even when we have apparently wandered far away. God continually chooses you, and me, God continually loves us, in the glory of our imperfect, broken, lives. Not because we deserve God’s love, but because that is who God is.

I began today with one of the markers of a parable, they tell us about the Kingdom of God. Many parables begin with these words; the Kingdom of God is like... You see, the surprise and the shock of this parable is that the Kingdom of God is like abundant grace for all God’s creation, freely given, and the Kingdom of God is also like you and me being champions of Christ, and therefore reconcilers for God.

The surprise and shock of this parable is that at the very same time we are recipients of the grace the father lavishes upon us, broken though we are, we are also agents of reconciliation, we are the ones who show the world that this abundant grace is available to each and every person whose paths we cross each and every day. 

This parable invites us, as does all that Jesus says and does, to consider being champions of giving, of giving honor, forgiveness, and giving joy, sacrificially and without regard of our own worthiness or the worthiness of our sisters and brothers. It challenges us to consider what kind of party we throw and who is really welcome at the banquet. This parable challenges us to live every moment in the Kingdom that is here and now, the Kingdom that Paul preaches with urgency. It challenges us to bring reconciliation into every relationship, now. It challenges us to live as Kingdom people, as agents of God’s transformation, and as ambassadors of the Kingdom.

We are these brothers, with love and grace lavished upon us, no matter what. Amen.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

3 Lent Yr C March 24 2019

3 Lent Yr C March 24 2019
Exodus 3:1-15, 1 Corinthians 10:1-13, Luke 13:1-9, Psalm 63:1-8

We continue along this journey with Jesus to Jerusalem. Imagine yourself along the road with him, it's a hot and dusty journey. You stop along the way to make camp, and people gather to listen to Jesus teach. But the journey is made more difficult because talk is they don't like Jesus much in Jerusalem, and yet he insists on making his way there. On this day though, the subject at hand is one of the most common questions asked, then or now: Are the bad things that happen to us our fault? Do we deserve them? Are they, in fact, at least the consequence of, if not punishment for, our sinful deeds? 

We may ask that question in a relatively mundane, even superstitious way, when something relatively minor goes wrong and we wonder, “What did I do to deserve that?” Or we may echo this question in a much more profound, heart-wrenching way when calamity strikes. I’d be willing to bet that almost all of us have sat with someone at the hospital or at the funeral who attributes grave illness or death to God as some sort of punishment. Those are not the times to correct incorrect theology, but the story of the fig tree we hear today tells us something very different. 

A very different theology is enacted in what we do and say and hear each time we gather together on these Sunday mornings. Before we eat together, before we put out our hands to accept Jesus into our hearts and bodies, we repent and return to the Lord. We confess our sins, ask for forgiveness, and indeed are forgiven. Sin is not really a very popular word these days. And yet, it is sin that separates us from Love, from God. The reality is that our sin causes our vision to curve in on itself, and we begin to believe that we are the center of all things. The corrective to sin is to turn around, to repent, to look outside of ourselves, to be bathed in God's grace and love, and to reach out to help others. 

Our journey in Lent is not about how wicked we are, it's not about shame, it's not about not being good enough. Our journey in Lent is about the practice of living in God's presence, the practice of loving, the practice of turning around and turning toward God. The parable of the fig tree shows us that when you think God has reached God's limit of forgiveness, God will forgive one more time. We are not perfect, this world is not perfect, but we are perfectly loved, perfectly forgiven. We are broken, but we are not lost, because Love wins. 

God’s relationship with us, God’s beloveds, is just that, it’s a relationship, it is not transactional. It is Love, and love is not transactional, it is not a bargain. We say, God, if you will get me out of this mess, then I will …. go to church every Sunday? never swear again? It is our mistake when we make it transactional. And humanity has been making that mistake throughout all story telling. Thank God for forgiveness. Thank God for just one more chance. Every time we bargain with God, we enter into a transaction, not a relationship. God calls us to relationship. Even Roman society was based on the premise that the good was a zero sum, a limited amount, so every encounter was transactional, there was aways a winner and a loser. 

We are not so different today. People want so desperately to be rewarded for good behavior. Some want so desperately to make sure those who exhibit bad behavior don't get the reward of heaven. They are willing to use Jesus, God, and the Bible as weapons to keep themselves in the right, but, they're wrong. With God there are no winners and losers, only imperfect people who are perfectly loved and forgiven. Only imperfect people who respond to God's amazing and abundant love and forgiveness by loving their neighbor, by feeding the hungry, tending the sick, visiting those who need companionship. 

So back to the question about why do bad things happen to good people. God's love is not about cause and effect. That is a very difficult proposition. God causes people to suffer? God causes people to loose everything they have? God causes storms and accidents alike? That's just bad theology. There are many people who don't believe in a God like that, and I'm with them. There are natural consequences to bad behavior, there are natural consequences to all our behavior, but that is not God's judgment. That said, God does indeed care how we live our lives, and how we treat people, and holds us accountable.

The claim of scripture is incarnation, no less. That is an amazing and astounding claim, and I can believe in a God of no less. God does not rescue humanity from itself, God does not rescue humanity from it's own stupidity, or it's own brilliance. God does not rescue humanity from the depths of grief, or the heights of joy. God joins humanity in the midst of it. The claim of scripture is incarnation, no less. God with us, in all of it with us. And God transforms us. God creates something new out of it. God's grace and love trumps judgment. God's grace and love transform us, and in being transformed we turn away from that which is killing us, that which is causing brokenness and division and fragmentation, and we turn to God and to others. We are forgiven. We are loved. We are changed.

Let it alone for one more year, let me put some more manure on it, give it another chance. Let's be patient with this tree. It may yet produce, let's help it along and wait and see. For all of God's love and God's grace and God's patience and God's forgiveness, there is an expectation that something new will be born, that there will be fruit. 

Bad things happen to good people. We read about and hear about tragedy all the time, sometimes so much that we just have to turn our televisions off, leave the mobile device alone. But it is not God's doing. God's doing is being with us, among us, carrying us in our weakness, crying with us in our grief, dancing with us in our joy. God is digging around our roots, spreading manure in the hope that we’ll blossom and bear fruit. God loves us, loves us, loves us, enough to hold us accountable for our faults, cover us in grace, walk by our side, and forgive us our sins as long as this life shall last. And that's what Lent is about.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

2 Lent Yr C March 17 2019

Audio  2 Lent Yr C March 17 2019
Genesis 15:1-12,17-18, Philippians 3:17-4:1, Luke 13:31-35, Psalm 27

All of Luke’s gospel is seen and heard through the lens of it’s beginning, Mary’s song, the Magnificat, “he has scattered the proud in their conceit, cast down the mighty from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.” And then Luke points us to God’s fulfillment of all things. Everything in between and along the way reminds us that God is coming to rule in peace and justice. So it isn’t much of a surprise that in Luke’s gospel, Jesus’ ministry attracts opposition. In this piece of Luke we have today, the Pharisees warn Jesus of Herod’s opposition, and Jesus replies, “go and tell that fox for me, I am about the work upending the powerful, and including those unclean and those on the margins.” No wonder Jesus attracted opposition.

Jesus laments those who do not hear, those who do not follow, those who will not be gathered and protected as a hen protects her brood. I think Jesus sounds a bit petulant, irritated, ill-tempered because what for him seems obvious, is not so to the others. Because the way things are, the status quo, benefits the mighty on their thrones, but not those with whom Jesus lives and breathes and has his being. Jesus attracts the opposition because he understands his work to fill the hungry with good things.  And for all of that, Herod, that fox, wants to kill him.

So Luke’s gospel, from Mary’s song all the way to the passion shows us what Jesus’ journey to the cross looks like, and what our journey with Jesus looks like. It shows us that not just Lent but our whole lives matter because it both witnesses to and is empowered by the love of a God who will not give up on God’s people. Ever. And it’s amazing to think that in the small and large things we do out of love, the God who created the heavens and earth from nothing and raised Jesus’ from death is still at work in us and through us for the sake of the world.

All that said, I can hear Obi Wan Kenobi say to Luke Skywalker as begin their journey together, “Luke, it is your destiny.” Jesus’ destiny is the cross in Jerusalem, as well as the resurrection to come. Jesus sets his face to Jerusalem as he leaves the devil in the wilderness, and the journey Jesus takes is a long and winding road. Given the opposition Jesus experiences the whole of the journey, Jesus shows some mighty determination and perseverance on this way, because there’s no way you can utter the words of Mary’s song, there’s no way you can preach a sermon like Jesus did in Nazareth, remember that one, Jesus said the scripture was fulfilled in their hearing and they wanted to throw him over the cliff, and expect acceptance or a world-viewed happy ending.

The trouble for us is that our human nature often causes us to give up or give in to difficulty, or pain, or sorrow. The trouble is that we humans fail. And we let the difficulties and the challenges of what lies ahead to redirect our intentions. Of course, this is not to suggest that we could ever do what Jesus did. Only Jesus could and can go to the cross. To be clear, the ability of Jesus to shoulder what was to come his way is not ours to bear. And it never will be. But, Jesus’ determination on the way shows us, maybe even makes it possible for us to continue on our way with similar determination and perseverance.

God is at work with Jesus, and God is at work with you and through you. So what gets in the way of our good intentions? What knocks us off the path, what is it that diverts our attention away from mercy and justice and the way of love? Often the wills and ways of the world knock us down, throw us off the path. Often it is of our own doing, we sabotage ourselves. We set ourselves up for failure when we expect perfection of ourselves.

But it’s also the great violence of human beings. It ‘s hard to keep loving when over and over, again and again, we hear news of people being killed while they are at worship. And it’s the great violence of our natural world, fanned by our own human failure to change the way we treat this fragile earth our island home, we witness and experience wind, snow, floods.

But the good news is that in the midst of pain and suffering, Jesus walks with us. God doesn’t take away the pain and suffering, but God comes in flesh and blood, to show us what love looks like. And in this passage, Jesus’ use of the mother hen image is a wonderful reminder of God’s love for all of us. It expands our imaginations. It is a mother’s love that is revealed here and indeed it brings us back to Mary’s song.

But it is also a love that might seem unjustified. Isn’t it true that sometimes we hear ourselves think, and some even say out loud, those people don’t deserve God’s love, that person is a monster, surely he will never be saved. Those people are the people in this story. Jesus was reaching out to those who were known to “kill the prophets and stone those sent to you.” We may say they were unworthy of Jesus' love, that they didn’t deserve it. And the truth be known, they didn’t deserve it, none of us deserve it. But that is the truth of God's kingdom, it is not about what we deserve, or what we don’t deserve.

None of those people deserve to die while at worship. None of those people deserve to have their home destroyed by tornado or snow hurricanes. It’s not about what we deserve or don’t deserve. None of us deserve God's amazing and abundant love. And yet, Jesus.

This journey of Lent calls us to intentionally walk this way of love. And that matters. As you live and breath in all the places you go, work, school, be the one who loves, be the one brings mercy.
Sometimes the strength within you is not a big firey flame for all to see, it is just a tiny spark that whispers ever so softly; you got this, keep going, keep loving. Amen.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

1 Lent Yr C March 10 2019

Audio  1 Lent Yr C March 10 2019
Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Romans 10:8b-13, Luke 4:1-13, Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16

So he stands by the refrigerator, with the door open, looking inside, and says, I'm starving, there's nothing to eat. Then he goes to the kitchen cupboard, opens the door, and declares again, I'm starving, there's nothing to eat. I go to the grocery store, stock up on everything I think he likes to eat, get it all home, and there's still nothing to eat. He eats a delicious meal of meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy, and an hour later says, I'm starving, what is there to eat. Some of you have been there done that, for others, if you don't know what that's like yet, you will. 

And then there's that late afternoon grumbling in your tummy, and if you go too long you get a little light headed and maybe even ornery. These days we call it hangry. What luxury we live in, most of us is pretty sure we won't go for more than a few hours before our next meal. What a bunch of first world problems.

In this story, Jesus has been in the wilderness for a very long time, and I would imagine he is hungry, tired, stinky, and snarky. Forty days is significant as it is a signal to us of the forty years that the Israelites wandered in the wilderness. Remember that story? Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, and in the wilderness they began to distrust Moses, they began to distrust God, they began to whine about the food, the living conditions, the weather. But who wouldn't, right? After forty years and another generation, who wouldn't lose hope? After years of oppression, who wouldn't lose hope? After years of being mistreated, who wouldn't lose hope? 

That's what The Devil is counting on in this story from Luke. The Devil is counting on Jesus having lost hope and trust in God. The Devil is counting on Jesus believing that God just does not care. Each one of the suggestions The Devil has for Jesus names the temptation to give up on God, to come to believe that God is not sufficient to meet one's needs. It's not really about right and wrong, Jesus' decisions are not really black and white. So while Jesus is incredibly hungry, even if he had some survival skills, eating bugs for forty days, one would think he's ready to deal. The Devil says to Jesus, just have something to eat, you know how hungry you are. Which one of us wouldn't want a good loaf of bread? Then The Devil says to Jesus, you can have all the power and authority in the world, just think what you could do with that. This could all be yours. Just think what good you could do with it. And lastly, after The Devil may be getting somewhat frustrated, he says to Jesus, just test that God of yours now, just see if he'll whisk you out of death if you throw yourself off this cliff. 

You see, The Devil's proposals are just like the promises of the world, and they look so attractive. You will be filled and fulfilled, you will have power and prestige, you will have immensity and immortality. It is so seductive. It is so tempting. We don't even know it's happening. But when the pills, or the promiscuity, or the power, don't deliver the goods, we tend to continue to look further for fulfillment by increasing the frenetic pace of finding something that will make us happy. It is that inferno into which our hopes, our happiness, our joy, get sucked. Thus, the expression, it sucks. The Devil counts on us giving up too, the Devil counts on us losing hope, and we may be so caught in the cycle of trying to make ourselves happy, that we give up on hope and joy without ever knowing we've given up.

But, even when we give up hope, even when we give up on God, even when we give in to the glitter and glitz the world offers us, God never gives up on us. Love does indeed win. That's what so amazing about God. No matter what, God does not give up on us. That is what this story is about, that is what this story we hear all the way through Lent tells us. It's not an easy story to hear, there's heartbreak and death on the way to the cross, and on the cross, but there's also forgiveness, healing, and new life. 

We already know that Jesus is a good Jew, he knows his bible well, and in those scriptures, Jesus hears God's love, he hears hope and healing and health. You see, this thing we do with God is not transactional. Though we do want it to be that way. God, if you pull me out of this mess I've gotten myself into, I will be a better person, I will go to church every Sunday. But isn't that the very same thing The Devil is doing? 

This thing God does with creation is not transactional, it is relational. The Devil wants us to think it's transactional, that it's about bargaining with God. That's where those temptations from The Devil come from. The Devil says to Jesus, if you turn these stones into bread, if you take this power and authority, if you jump off this cliff, then I will give this all to you. With The Devil it is transactional, with God it is relational, and at the center of that relationship is the Love that wins. 
The relationship calls us to turn away from or set aside or leave behind all that is killing us and turn back to God. As we hear that call, and as we set aside the stuff that gets in our way, as we lay down our own heartbreak, and as we fall to our knees, we realize we are already forgiven. We realize Love and Hope and Joy have never been absent from us, we've just had our backs turned, we've had our hearts hardened. We realize that we are washed in the reality and love of God.

And as we begin to live the new life that is given, it dawns on us that we must respond to God's love. It dawns on us that there is pain and suffering and injustice in our world, and the new life that is God's gift really isn't about any one of us anyway. 

God’s intention for us is to be in relationship, in love, with Jesus. How can you be intentional in following the way of Love this Lent? We can respond to God's love with prayer, we listen to God and God's movement in our lives. That's what relationship is all about. We can respond to God's love by fasting from that which keeps the relationship from flourishing. We can respond to God's love by giving our love, our wealth, our time. Prayer, fasting, almsgiving are ancient practices that give life to our relationship with God. Prayer, fasting, almsgiving are ancient practices that enact God's love, God's justice, in our world. Prayer, fasting, almsgiving are ancient practices that remind us that God always has hope and faith in us.

The good news is that Jesus has already walked this way, through the wilderness and to the cross. The good news is that Jesus does not succumb to the seduction of power. Instead, Jesus puts himself in between the powers of hate and shows makes love real. 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...