Thursday, November 23, 2017

Friend Zoned No More!

The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, the 25th Chapter

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

When people ask how Kelly and I met, Kelly always says she chased me until I caught her.  Which is accurate.  I had been friend-zoned so many times at that point in my life, I assumed I would end up in the friend-zone with her too, so I just saved her the trouble and friend-zoned myself!  That was until she stopped being subtle… THEN I clued in and quickly caught up!  And once I caught up, I went with her places I wouldn’t have gone before I knew her.  I hung out with people I wouldn’t have hung out with before.  There was the Halloween party where we were the only straight couple.  There was her friend, the scary drag queen, not scary because of the drag, but because… well… SCARY!  I met her friends who soon became my friends too, most were either dying of AIDS, loosing partners because of AIDS, grieving the loss of dozens of friends from AIDS and in most cases, all of that at the same time.

Now, I didn’t meet those people and go to those places out of a sense of compassion or social justice or doing the “right thing”… at least not to begin with… the reason I went there and hung out with these folks was… well… that’s where Kelly was going and that’s who Kelly was seeing and I just wanted to be with her.  

That’s really what’s happening in this parable.  The people that fed the hungry, gave the thirsty something to drink, clothed the naked, welcomed the stranger and visited the prisoner had NO IDEA that they were doing something good or noble or praiseworthy.  “When did we do THAT?” they all said!  ALL they were doing, at least at first, was following around the ONE who loved them.  Jesus.  They fed the hungry and clothed the naked and healed the sick… not to be noble or “good” or anything like that.  They just did all that because Jesus had loved them and now they just wanted to be with Jesus.  And tagging along with Jesus they ended up doing Jesus things and being with the people Jesus was with.  The ORDER in which this happened turns out to be really important.  FIRST, Jesus loved them.  THEN they started doing Jesus stuff… like feeding the hungry and healing the sick and all that.

The order’s important because this parable can quickly get turned around if we’re not careful.  It’s important to notice… ALL the sheep and ALL the goats… all the nations… are gathered together by the Good Shepherd.  Everyone’s “IN”… no exceptions... we’ve all been gathered together… caught up in God’s infinite, loving, embrace.  It DOESN’T say, “Do good stuff and that will make Jesus love you.”  It DOESN’T say, “Do bad stuff and you’ll burn.”  THIS PARABLE SAYS, “You HAVE BEEN gathered together and wrapped in God’s infinite, unconditional love!  Period!  Done!  NOW.  Living in the light of that reality… whatcha gonna do about it?

Our lives are a RESPONSE to God’s love.  Our lives do not FORCE a response from God.  SO, with that in mind, scooped up by God’s love, sheep and goats alike, removed from the friend-zone, there are basically two options for RESPONDING.  We can CLUE IN to God’s love and CATCH UP with the love we’ve been given in Christ.  THEN, once we’ve clued in and caught up we’ll inevitably begin to follow the ONE who loved us first.  Going where Jesus goes, meeting who Jesus meets, doing what Jesus does.  And it turns out, when you do Jesus stuff out in the world… when you live a Jesus sort of life, and hang out with the sort of people Jesus hung out with… it looks to all the world like you’re living a peculiarly gracious, loving, generous and peace filled life.    

The other option is… well… you don’t.  You refuse to clue in to how much you’re loved.  You reject the truth of the unconditional love you’ve been given and you respond by walking away from God’s unconditional, loving embrace.  That too looks a particular way to those around you.  It looks like not sharing, not caring, looking out only for yourself and demonizing THOSE people.

The kicker of it all… The GRACE of it all, is that no matter how you choose to RESPOND to God’s love for you, your choice never changes the fact that God loves you.  You are loved no matter what you choose.  But a life lived diving deeper and deeper every day into God’s infinite love, is a VERY different life experience than a life lived on the run from God’s love.  

It’s sort of like a mother’s love for their toddler.  Her love for her child is solid, both when that child’s little head is nestling into her mother’s chest AND when that same toddler arches her back, screams and kicks and tries to throw herself out of her mother’s arms.  Mom loves them both ways, but the one response to that love is a way is peaceful and filled with joy while the other way, well, it’s a bit like hell.  

That’s the way God works.  You and I and all of creation... we were made perfectly... but perfectly human.  There are times when we are at our best.  Times when we clue in and catch up and live our lives in response to God’s love… living for the least and the lost and the last of the world.  Then there are times when we arch our backs and scream and kick, responding to God’s love by trying everything we can to throw ourselves out of God’s loving embrace.  And yet… in the power of God’s love… a power so great it raises the dead… we have been, and continually are, scooped up in God's love regardless of what we choose.

THAT’s where we live.  We live every moment of our lives, scooped up in God’s loving arms, in all our tender sheepish moments AND in every kicking moment of goatitude.  There’s simply NO question about that.  The only question is a question we answer new every day... How will we respond to that love today?  So, scooped up in the Good Shepherd’s loving embrace… Living in the light of that reality… how will you choose to respond?  Amen.  

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Off to Boca!

The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, the 25th Chapter
“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Back in the Gilded Age, up in one of the “cottages” in Stockbridge, there lived two little boys, one a hopeless pessimist and the other, an over-the-top optimist.  The parents consulted a psychiatrist, worried their boys were both too extreme in their outlooks on life.  He suggested they fill one room with beautiful toys and put the pessimist in there and fill the other room with horse manure and put the optimist in there.  Then the parents checked on the kids.  They found the pessimist weeping, “Why are you crying?” the mother asked.  He said, “I just know that as soon as I touch one of these toys it'll break and I’ll be in trouble.”  They then looked in on the optimist.  With a giant grin on his face he was happily shoveling the mound of manure.  “Why are you so happy” asked the father.  He replied, “With all this manure, there’s gotta be a pony in here somewhere!”

A wealthy man entrusted three slaves with his money.  They weren’t asked to just hold it, they were to MANAGE it… like finance people manage a trust fund... and what he entrusted them with wasn’t chump change either.  A talent in today’s money would be about half a million dollars!  So these three were ENTRUSTED with half a million, a million and 2.5 million dollars as the master boarded his plane to Boca for the winter.  When he returned, two slaves had made money, but the third had dug a hole and buried what he had been given, so he wouldn’t lose even a penny.  The master was furious!  

The question is WHY... why was the Master furious?  The Master didn’t lose any money.  While he was on the beach sipping mimosas, he made 3.5 million!  So, why was he so angry?  The answer, I think, would make Wall Street folks pass out in horror.  The answer is... the money didn’t matter!  What this Master cared about, more than all those millions of dollars, was whether his slaves trusted him at his word or not.  When he flew off to Boca, he gave them something infinitely more important to him than his money... he gave them HIS TRUST.  

He TRUSTED them to DO THE WORK that he had done himself while he was around.  He knew the risks!  He understood, “past performance is no guarantee of future returns.”  But what REALLY pleased him wasn’t the money.  It was the relationship!  Those two slaves TRUSTED him at his Word!  They took what they had been given and risked it as the master had entrusted them to do.  Yeah, it turns out they doubled his money and I’m sure he didn’t poo-poo the profits, but for THIS master, making money wasn’t the MOST important thing!  What this master REALLY valued was that when he told them he trusted them... they BELIEVED him and got out there and DID what he had asked them to DO.  

The slave with the one talent… He just didn’t believe.  He thought, “The Master’s lying.  He SAYS he wants me to risk it all, but I know he’s harsh, unfair and cruel and I know I’ll be in hot water if I loose even a penny!”  So that slave chose to act, not out of the TRUST he had been given, but out of some imagined FEAR.  In FEAR he buried that talent to protect what he had been given against the slightest chance that it might one day, for whatever reason, slip away.  

WE, of course, are those slaves and our Master has entrusted us with some work.  What does our Lord require?  To do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.  What does our Lord ask of us?  To GO therefore and MAKE disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and TEACHING them to obey everything that I have commanded you.  

We have the same choice to make as the slaves in this parable.  Will we take the amazing gifts of this congregation… kindness, openness, genuine care for one another, a desire for justice, gifts of welcome and hospitality, a beautiful building and all the rest... will we put them on the line, and DO what our Master has asked us to do, with the same boldness Jesus showed in his life AND in his death?  OR, will we dig a hole and bury what we’ve been given, living in fear of the day it might all just slip away?

It’s the same choice those two Stockbridge brothers had too.  Will we end up wringing our hands at the changing world around us and just weep at what seems like the inevitable loss of all our toys, OR will we have the audacity to put a you-know-what eatin’ grin on our faces, pick up our shovels, stand shoulder to shoulder, and dig into the world out there… which I’ll be the first to admit looks these days a whole lot like a GREAT… BIG… PILE… of…. how about if we just say manure.   

This parable is the Church’s parable for our age… and not just Christ Trinity’s parable, but it’s THE parable of the WHOLE Church in our time.  Some congregations will face their future by digging a hole, putting into it all they have left and pulling the dirt in on top of themselves.  THIS, I am happy to say, is not a congregation like that!  This is the sort of congregation that take’s God at God’s Word… is ready to do our best, to do God’s business here in the Berkshires.  To me it’s clear, this congregation is ready to start digging, confident that somewhere buried in that great big pile of demographic shift out there… there is ABSOLUTELY a pony in there for us to find!  

You see, I think when we trust our Master is as Good as his Word... when we refuse to bury even a little bit of we’ve been given out of FEAR and INSTEAD decide to boldly and creatively dig with the amazing tools we’ve been given, deeper and DEEPER into that pile... I am convinced we WILL find that God has placed not just one pony in that pile… but a whole HERD of ponies so numerous that we’ll all be able to ride into a future full of abundant life and light!  AMEN!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Help From the Home Office

The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew the 25th Chapter

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

What makes some “wise” and others “foolish”?  The answer is clear… the wise filled out their pledge cards generously, the foolish did not and because of that they were locked in the outer darkness.  Obvious!  (holding fingers to ear)  Hold on, I’ve got a message coming in from the home office.  Alright.  Apparently that is absolutely NOT the reason.  Okay.  And I am to stop being a bad pastor and do this sermon right.  

Alright then, so what DOES make those “wise” bridesmaids “wise”?  Biblically, being greedy, fearful and uncaring of others is not “wise” behavior so it’s not the oil hoarding and terrible sharing skills that made them “wise”.  That means there must be something ELSE that makes them “wise.”  And what about the “foolish” Bridesmaids?  Before the home office called I would’ve said they were foolish because they didn’t pack enough oil.  But now that I have to be honest, Jesus is FOREVER forgiving of people who fall short of the glory of having enough lamp oil, and every other sort of sin as well.  We all fall short of the Glory of God and if it’s not the sin of running out of lamp oil it’s something else, so THAT’s clearly not what makes them foolish.  That means there must be something ELSE that makes them “foolish.”

These judgement parables are hard!  My dad always said when a question was hard, go back and RTFQ which I believe means, “Read The Full Question.”  Hold on, I’m getting another message from the home office.  Right.  Apparently that is NOT what that means… It means THAT?  I can’t say that in church!  Okay, forget that, dad also told me it wasn’t a good idea to ASSUME we know what the text says.  That we have to really read it like we’re reading it for the first time because when we ASSUME we make… Hold on.  It’s another message from the home office.  Apparently I can’t tell you that in church either.  MAN the home office is "extra helpful" today… Hold on… apparently the home office does not think it’s being “extra helpful” … The home office thinks I’m having “extra trouble” today. 

Well, these judgement parables are hard!  But, when you go back and really read it, it turns out the reason the “foolish” are locked out is right there in the text itself!   The Bridegroom never says they are locked out because they ran out of oil, or didn’t plan well or failed to find the 24 hour Exxon lamp oil station. The text says they are locked out because, the Bridegroom didn’t know them.  “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.”   

Here’s what I think is going on and I think the home office will back me on this:  The groom in the story is Jesus and the wedding party is THE wedding party, the Kingdom of God, the Feast of food rich and well aged wines, Heaven, the Sweet By and By, or whatever else you want to call it.  ALSO in first-century Jewish weddings… EVERYONE in town was ALWAYS included in a wedding party… So at Jesus’ eternal wedding party, EVERYONE is invited… all of creation... EVERYONE gets in the door through Jesus’s life, death and resurrection.  The Groom (Jesus) has asked you and me to help light the way for the guests who haven’t arrived yet, which makes us the bridesmaids!  BUT here’s the KEY to this whole story... Jesus asks you and me to be his bridesmaids and to shine a light into the darkness of this world, NOT because we’ll do it perfectly or flawlessly but simply and ONLY because he LOVES US!  

If you think about it, we do the same thing with our weddings!  We don’t ask people to be in our wedding because they are pros at being in weddings!  In fact we usually ask people like Andy Ericson, who as expected, forgot the shoes that went with his tux!  And we ask people like Andy Ericson because we LOVE THEM and that’s exactly what Jesus has done.  He’s asked US to be in his wedding party!  He didn’t ask the pros.  He asked US!  And Jesus, of ALL people, knows exactly who he’s getting in his wedding party!  Sometimes we plan well and sometimes we don’t.  Sometimes fear makes us selfish, and other times we’re the most generous people in the world.  The Groom just loves us, with or without enough oil, with or without our shoes, and that’s the ONLY reason he wants us in the party.  Would he like us to be helpful and light the path?  Sure!  But that’s completely bonus!  The MOST important thing is that we are with him at the wedding! 

THAT’s what made the other bridesmaids truly “foolish.”  They DID NOT BELIEVE the Groom’s love was really unconditional.  They somehow, got the FOOLISH notion that the Groom would love them ONLY if their lamps were full of oil and burning brightly.  So, they FOOLISHLY abandoned the groom to run off and find some oil, which they FOOLISHLY thought was what the Groom cared about and because they did that, it was clear that they really DID NOT KNOW HIM.  They were “foolish” and we are “foolish” when we stop believing that God’s love for us is absolutely unconditional and we run around in the dark, trying to do the impossible, like find more oil in the middle of the night, or live perfect lives, all in a completely FOOLISH attempt to MAKE God love us.  

So, my fellow beautiful, blushing, Bridesmaids… Be Wise!  Stick close to the Groom!  Don't leave the party!  Be confident in God’s love unconditional, unlimited love for you!  Shine your light while you have oil.  Share your oil when others around you run low and smile in the darkness when your oil inevitably runs out because God loves you no matter what!  And remember, no matter how much oil you have, or how dry your tank runs, the light of Christ is more than bright enough to light the path for all of creation.  It shines in the darkness when we have oil AND shines when we’ve run out too.  There simply is no darkness out there that can overcome it.   Amen. 

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Bloody Moons and Hallelujah Days

Isaiah 25:6-9

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.

It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
The Prophet Isaiah says, “On THIS mountain!”  This one… RIGHT HERE… Right here, right where we are today, RIGHT HERE on THIS mountain, on this Berkshire Mountain.  The Lord of Hosts will make a feast for all peoples… a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines!  Do you see it?  You’re having trouble seeing aren’t you?  The people Isaiah told this to back in the day had trouble seeing it too.  That’s why Isaiah gave them some more details… He said, it’s a feast of rich food filled with marrow.  That’s the kind of food where you’re going to need more than one napkin.  One little napkin, dabbing at the corners of your mouth, just isn’t going to cut it!  THIS is a feast of well-aged wines strained clear… the good stuff… not the two buck Chuck… not to cast aspersions on Chuck, but this is the really, really good stuff… and I’ve got to tell you… when I close my eyes and think about the Kingdom of God, THAT’s the vision I see!

It’s a vision of ABUNDANCE not scarcity.  A vision of WIC out of business.  Not because they ran out of money but  because everyone has enough!  It’s a vision where we find more chairs and put together more tables, not build a higher fence.  It’s a vision of a feast given as a gift for the guilty, not as a reward for the righteous… so even the likes of me, gets to eat!  Isaiah tells us it’s going to happen RIGHT HERE!  We don’t need to go get it, this feast isn’t take out… it’s delivery… It’s coming to us… right here to THIS Berkshire mountain and as Christians we believe Jesus is standing at the door knocking because in Jesus’s life, death and resurrection, the feast has been delivered!  

So tell me something… Why am I having so much trouble these days seeing that feast?  I see the hungry… but it’s been hard to see the feast.  I’ve seen young men shot for nothing… but it’s been hard to see the feast.  I’ve talked with a woman who gave birth to her youngest child in a boat between Syria and Greece… but it’s been hard to see the feast.  I’ve seen angry white men march with hate in their eyes and torches in their hands… but lately… it’s been hard to see the feast.  I’ve got to confess there seems to be too many days lately when the sun has refused to shine… and it’s been hard to see the feast.

Oh when the sun, refuse to shine
Oh when the sun refuse to shine
Oh Lord, I want to be in that number
When the sun refuse to shine.    

I’ll tell you what, whether I want to be in that number or not, I’m in it, and like it or not, I appreciate it when someone is brave enough to use really honest words.  Sometimes there IS a shroud on the mountain… a sheet covering the nations and sometimes the sun DOES refuse to shine.  If Isaiah can be honest like that and still get a book in the Bible, then you and I can call it like it is too!  There’s too much hunger in this world… too much hate… too much death.  Isaiah doesn’t pull any punches.  He doesn’t pretend the world is all puppy dogs and unicorns.  He’s honest.  Sometimes the world is dark and hard and cold and sometimes things are very, very, very much NOT like they should be. 

And when the moon, turns red with blood
And when the moon, turns red with blood
O Lord, I want to be in that number,
When the moon turns red with blood.

That’s the honest story, even on our very own Berkshire mountain and it’s important to be honest.  But if we’re going to be honest, we need to be all-the-way honest.  We have to tell the rest of the story.  We’ve got to sing the whole song.  The world IS hard, dark and painful… that’s true… AND at the very same time… Happening right here on THIS mountain, Jesus has brought us together to share a feast as well.  Now, if you’re a stoic Swede like me… you’ll be tempted to wait to crack a smile until ALL the darkness becomes light.  You’ll feel guilty singing a song before ALL the hate everywhere has melted away.  You’ll want to wait to sit down at to feast until ALL the world gets fully RIGHT… but Isaiah didn’t tell us what was coming to just to make it harder for us sit on our hands.  Isaiah told us about this feast so that all of us, including the stoic Swede here, would start that feast RIGHT NOW!  Right now… right where we are, no matter what dark and ugly things are going bump on the news… Isaiah is telling us to put on our Sunday clothes, wash our hands, comb our hair (if we’ve got enough to comb) and start marching in and enjoy the feast TODAY!

O when the Saints, go marchin' in
O when the Saints, go marchin' in
O Lord, I want to be in that number,
When the Saints go marchin' in!

It’s hard to hold those things together though, isn’t it?  It’s hard to hold the sun refusing to shine and people going hungry… and hold that together with the promise of a feast of rich foods filled with marrow.  It’s hard to hold the moon turning red with the blood of children shot down for no good reason and for every hateful reason… it’s hard to hold that together with the promise of a feast of well aged wines strained clear.  It’s hard.  In fact, it’s worse than that!  Because if you try to hold those things together all by yourself, it’s all going to just spin apart into either delusion or despair. 

That’s why we need more of THIS!  More time spent with each other… TOGETHER!  We need to be together to wipe away each other’s tears until God finishes the job and there are no more tears that need wiping.  We need to be together so we can hold one another close when the sheet of death is pulled up over the ones we love until that day when God comes and swallows up death forever and we need to sing the WHOLE SONG together and remind each other that no matter what horrible thing is happening in the world today, there is also a feast happening right here, right now, on this Berkshire mountain!  And that means that no matter what dark and horrible things are happening in the world today… TODAY is also a Hallelujah Day!  So let us be glad and rejoice in God's salvation! 

And on this hallelujah day
And on this hallelujah day,
O Lord, I want to be in that number,
On this hallelujah day! 

Friday, November 3, 2017

Big S-Saints and little s-saints

The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, the 5th Chapter

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: 
 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 
 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 
 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 
 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 
 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 
 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 
 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. 


When I was growing up, Christmas Eve was HUGE… because PRESENTS!  We’d eat our Swedish Christmas dinner, then, my sister and I would do the dishes, because PRESENTS couldn’t be opened until the dishes were done and my mom was tricksy that way!  Then FINALLY… the PRESENTS!  Oh, yeah, and after that we’d all go to church… whatever!  But PRESENTS were the thing!  We opened them one person at a time around the circle.  When it was my turn I always unwrapped like a hurricane, with paper and bows flying everywhere!  My mom though, always unwrapped her gifts savoring every moment... appreciating the bow, commenting on the paper, really taking time to fully admire the gift.  It was TORTURE!  Waiting through all that painfully slow present-savoring before it could be my turn again!  It was awful!  Later in life I began to appreciate the deep, savoring, unwrapping of gifts, mostly because it was fun to torture my kids in the same way my mom tortured me!  

This week I’ve been thinking about the difference between Big-S saints like St. Francis who took care of the poor or St. Christina the Astonishing, who could smell sin… really, she could smell sin!  I’ve been thinking about the difference between those Big-S saints and little-s saints who are like the people whose names we read this morning and the people sitting here today… little-s saints like you and me.  We little-s saints got to be saints simply because God says we are!  It’s one of the things we celebrate in Baptism…that God has made us each into a saint… Simply and only because God says, “It is so!”

But knowing there are both Big-S Saints AND little-s saints got me wondering.  How do you go from being a little-s saint to a Big-S Saint?  The answer, I think, might be in how we unwrap and savor the gift of being made little-s saints by God.  I think too that maybe those “Blessed Are’s”… the Beatitudes we just read… are God’s instructions for unwrapping and savoring that gift.  Some folks seem to really, really be able to savor that gift.  Like my mom did with Christmas presents, these people carefully unwrap the gift of being made a little-s saint and in doing that, they don’t just see the gift, but they also see the beauty, care, compassion and love in which that gift was wrapped. They take time to watch the way the bow shimmers in the light.  They carefully open the box and hold their gift of sainthood up to the light and REALLY SEE what God has given them.  They MARVEL at it!  They revel in it… but even more than that… these are the folks who don’t shove that gift into the back of the closet... they love that gift so much that from that day on, it goes with them everywhere and becomes a part of everything they do in their lives. 

The better we’re able to do that… to unwrap, savor, cherish and pass on that gift… the more we experience the fullness of the gift we’ve been given.  I think it’s the folks who are able to do that very, very well that we all end up recognizing as Capital-S Saints… they didn’t start with anything more than the rest of us.  They are simply the ones who have been able to make the very most out of the same gift of little-s sainthood that we’ve all been given in Christ.  

When those folks, who unwrap and savor that gift find themselves poor in spirit, they are the ones who are somehow able, in that moment, to be thankful for it!  Thankful for the reminder that it isn’t their spirit that transforms the world, but the HOLY SPIRIT that moves creation toward the Kingdom of God!  When those folks experience life’s greatest losses, somehow they find a way to be thankful.  Because in those moments where they miss the embrace of the ones they’ve loved so deeply… they find a way to be thankful that their loss allows them to feel God’s embrace more clearly.  

They are the people who find joy in NOT being the biggest and the most important, but in knowing that God made them to fit perfectly right where they are in every moment.  They are the ones who have a hunger and a thirst for making the world work right.  They are the ones who, by looking so closely at the gift they've been given, are able to see God’s heart beating inside them and with that, are then able then to see God’s heart beating in everyone around them as well.  They are the ones who understand the power of bringing people together in a world that seems bent on spinning people apart.  They are ones who, in seeing themselves as saints, are able to see everyone around them as saints as well.

The Big-S Saints don’t have a different, better, or more wonderful gift than you and I have as little-s saints.  We all begin in the same place with the same overwhelming gift, as little-s saints of God!  As this day proclaims, we are indeed, All Saints!  The difference between little-s saints and those Big-S Saints, is that they have taken the time… a little more each day… to more clearly SEE the beauty of the gift they have been given.  They have over and over again, unwrapped that gift’s next layer… going deeper and deeper every day, discovering more and more of God’s love, compassion and generosity wrapped inside.  They are the ones who fall so fully in love with the gift of little-s sainthood, that they can’t help but to take it with them everywhere they go… take it a little further into the world every day… share it a little more widely every day… and give more of it more deeply to the people they meet along the way. 

You and I… we’re the little-s saints… made saints as a gift from God.  May we see more clearly the beauty of the gift we’ve been given.  May we unwrap more deeply the layers of the gift we’ve been given.  May we fall so fully in love with this gift we’ve been given, that we carry it farther, share it more completely and in doing all that, live into the name God has already given us… the name of saint!  Amen.  

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

That Face!

The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew the 22nd Chapter

Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap Jesus in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 

Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

There are at least two places to mess this one up.  The first is to see this as a story about Jesus making politicians look like idiots.  That one’s VERY tempting.  The second is more serious… and that’s to see this as a story telling us there is part of the world where God works and another, different part of the world, where God does not.

“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  At first glance it might look like Jesus is saying there are two circles of influence in the world.  One here.  One over here.  One controlled by Caesar.  The other controlled by God.  A political circle and a spiritual circle… both completely separate.  But really, what Jesus did here is to remind us that Caesar’s political circle is completely inside God’s circle which surrounds ALL of creation.  On the surface, Jesus asked “whose face is on that coin”, but the REAL question Jesus asked was “who do you think gave the emperor that face!?”  

EVERYTHING… the good AND the bad… people, war, peace, disease, sickness, health, food, water, disasters, triumphs, love, death, flags, anthems, presidents, emperors… EVERYTHING… EVERY-THING belongs to God.  If I was Bishop Curry, this is where I’d probably start singing “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands!”  The BIG temptation of this story is to read it the way the Pharisees and the Herodians HEARD it, and miss the way Jesus TOLD it.  

BOTH the Pharisees and the Herodians believed there were places in the world the other couldn’t touch.  Two separate circles.  Over here… political, business, and worldly things that “belong to Caesar”… apart from God.  Over there… the religious, church, and spiritual things that “belong to God” apart from Caesar and n’er the twain shall meet.  God’s laws, the prophets warnings and Jesus’s teachings are all fine and dandy inside church walls or in our hearts, but out there… those shouldn’t mix with how we do government, address violence, or think about poverty, hunger, healthcare and justice.  

What Jesus was SAYING… not what the Herodians and Pharisees HEARD now, but what Jesus was SAYING… is that God not only has something to SAY about every aspect of every single moment of our lives, but that God has every aspect of every moment of our lives... every face in all of creation, wrapped up in the infinite, unconditional, loving, ever-transforming and redeeming circle of God’s embrace!  

The faith stuff isn’t at all separate from the world stuff.  Because ALL the stuff is God’s STUFF.  All those crazy notions Jesus held up, like unconditional and sacrificial love, looking out for the LEAST, LAST and LOST before you look out for yourself… ALL that stuff… stuff like real justice, radical forgiveness, unhindered generosity, perpetual peace and uncompromising compassion… ALL of it… it’s not just how Sunday morning’s supposed to work.  THAT’S the way God is transforming the WHOLE WORLD to work and that’s what all the fruit talk’s been about the last few weeks.  WE’RE supposed to bear fruit!  As Christians, WE’RE called to be part of God’s transformational work! 

Now, you know why all this fruit talk sounds so hard, don’t you?  It’s because it’s hard!  But this gospel makes it harder!  Because as we go out there and do that hard work, Jesus wants us to remember that it is God’s hand that formed every face we encounter along the way.  In this story, Jesus told them, God made every Jewish face… AND every Roman face.  Every face.  God made Caesar’s face and God’s hand still forms EVERY face.  Now, think about that… EVERY face.  Then and now… EVERY… FACE… I’ll give you a second to let that sink in… EVERY…FACE… Yup, even THAT face!  You see where this is going, don’t you?  That means God made the faces on both sides of the aisle, both sides of the gun, both sides of the prison bars, both sides of the ocean.  God’s hand formed the faces that endure the hate and the faces that spew it.  God’s hand formed faces that kneel and faces that stand.  God’s hand formed every face, and along with the faces, the hearts and souls of all of creation!

You see where this is going, don’t you?  As we do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God… as we work in the vineyard for racial justice, an end to violence, and for enough, good, food and clean water for all… What this means is that as we do that work we need to look for God’s fingerprints in EVERY face we encounter along the way.  EVERY FACE.  In the hurting faces AND in the faces of those who do the hurting.  It’s so much easier to divide and conquer though, isnt’ it?  Divide the world into:  us OR them, in OR out, good OR bad, up OR down, heaven OR hell. 

But that’s not the Jesus way… because it isn’t the truth and doesn’t lead to life.  The truth is in that song:  “He’s got the whole world in his hands!”  So, when we work for justice, kindness, inclusivity, peace, and compassion… not just in church on Sunday, but in every part of our lives… As we do that work, Jesus challenges us to see God’s fingerprints in EVERY face.  That person who’s working against love, compassion and justice… THAT broken, hurting, person trying to get rid of their pain by passing it on to someone else… That person… THAT person, hides behind a face which also bears the fingerprints of God.  

Now, that doesn’t mean we give up the fight and let that face roll over the world.  We MUST continue to work toward the transformation of the world.  Remember, God has a clear opinion about how the world should work… There ARE the blessed ARE's after all... the peacemakers, the meek, the ones who hunger and thirst for what is right…  But as we strive, little by little to do God’s work, we must always remember that God’s fingerprints are everywhere and on every face.  On the faces of those easiest to love and on the faces of those who make loving them nearly impossible...  and even on the face where God’s fingerprints are sometimes the very, very hardest for us to see… God’s fingerprints are even on the face we see in our mirror.  Amen.