Saturday, March 17, 2018

Even the Greeks!

The Holy Gospel According to St. John, the 12th Chapter

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

When the Greeks came to Jerusalem they stood out.  It was Passover and the Greeks were… well, Greek… not Jews.  People noticed.  They were “God-fearers” which meant they practiced the Jewish faith but they could never be REAL Jews, because they were not BORN to a Jewish mother, and if you’re not born into it, you would never be a REAL Child of God, and THAT... as they say, was THAT. 

But the Greeks had heard about Jesus.  The teaching.  The signs.  Maybe the Messiah?  Who knew?  So they wanted to see Jesus.  And not just set their eyeballs on him, but really SEE him... connect with him... because maybe, just maybe… if by some long shot this WAS the Messiah… well, then the Messiah would have the power to change the way things had always been.... the Messiah would have the power to change the world so even Greeks could become Children of God.

And this WAS the moment.  THIS was the judgement of the world, but not a “heaven and hell” kind of judgement.  This judgement is the Greek word “krisis” which is more like the Chinese characters for “crisis” with one character for “danger” and one for “opportunity” put together to form a new word.  THIS was the moment of a dangerous opportunity… an opportunity to walk out of the darkness and become the light, go from death into life… an opportunity to cast down the mighty and lift up the lowly… this was the time to turn outsiders into insiders… a time to begin changing and healing all of creation.  And all that change is EXACTLY what made all this so DANGEROUS… because people in power back then, like people in power today, did NOT want things to change.  But for the Greeks, it was worth the risk... because THIS might be their opportunity... maybe their only opportunity... to really become Children of God.  So, in spite of the danger, these Greeks chose this dangerous opportunity to SEE Jesus.

Jesus, of course, was the very center of this dangerous opportunity and this was the moment.  In John’s Gospel, everything points to this moment.  Remember the wedding in Cana when Jesus told his mother that his hour had not yet come... Well, THIS was now the HOUR he had been talking about!  This was the HOUR of his death and resurrection… the moment the world is turned upside down… the moment death ceases to have the last word… the moment that would ripple out in waves from that place and that time through every time and every place.  The Greek grammar makes this VERY clear...This was THE moment God turned the world upside down but it wasn’t a one-and-done thing… it was a particular moment for sure, but like a stone dropped into a pond, it was a moment that rippled out from that point into forever, transforming all of creation in waves, continually changing everything... year after year, all over the world, through the centuries and even rippling into here and now.  The ripples from Jesus being lifted up continue to change the world… to change us… even here… even today.  But now, just like back then, joining in with a world changer is a dangerous opportunity.  Even today, changes that feel like ripples to some, feel like world ending tidal waves to others.  

Way back then, those Greeks leaned into that dangerous opportunity.  They knew the dangers of seeing Jesus… of joining in with an earth shaker and a world changer, but they also knew that seeing Jesus meant the opportunity to be transformed… to become fully the Children of God they felt called to be… to be accepted unconditionally into a community of faith… to be wrapped up in God’s love and God's peace which passes all understanding… to not just walk in God’s light but to become the light shining the way to the Kingdom of God.  

Those same ripples… that same tidal wave (depending on your perspective) from that same moment when Jesus was lifted up then, is here for us today.  The same dangerous opportunity to join with God to do nothing less than transform the world into the Kingdom of God is here for us today.  The same question the Greeks faced all those years ago is the question we are being asked today.  Will we choose the dangerous opportunity to join with Jesus… the earth shaker, the tidal wave maker, the Kingdom bringer and transform the world?  Will we join the One who insists that a few is just not enough and that only drawing ALL to himself will do?  

If that’s the dangerous opportunity you are looking for, there’s some Good News for you today!  If you, like those Greeks, want to see Jesus, there is some Good News for you today!  Because today Jesus is lifted up, right there in the bread and the wine!  In fact, EVERY Sunday he is lifted up to draw all, all, ALL of creation to himself including you!   If that makes this dangerous opportunity something you feel called to lean into like those Greeks, then come to the table!  Taste and see!  Everyone is welcome.  Everyone… even you Greeks.  Amen.  

Friday, March 2, 2018

Pies, Potato Chips and Power

The Holy Gospel According to St. John, the 2nd Chapter

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

I would like to be able to tell you that this Gospel lesson today is about Girl Scout Cookies.  I’d like to tell you that this Gospel clearly forbids Girl Scouts, Brownies and especially Daisy Scouts (because their cuteness is impossible to resist) from selling me cases of Samoas.  I’d like to tell you that because, I have no self control and can only eat Samoas by the box.  So, I’d like to tell you this lesson is about evils of selling addictive cookies covered in lavish amounts of cocoanut-y, chocolatey goodness in church… but I can’t, because this lesson isn’t really about that at all.  

In Matthew, Mark and Luke’s Gospels this story at the end.  This rampage in the Temple square is part of what motivates the authorities to arrest Jesus and have him killed, but here in John’s Gospel, it's at the very beginning of the book.  My dad was a career Air Force officer and he always said when you give a briefing you first tell them what you are going to say.  Then you say it.  Then you tell them what you said.  With these actions… Jesus was beginning his briefing.  He was telling the world what he was going to say with his whole life.  

Jesus was telling the world that he was about pulling down barriers and turning over antiquated ideas that kept people separated from one another and from God.  The Temple was the place Jewish people came to get right with God.  But over the years, it had also become a place where human relationships got flung apart.  Men could go here, but women had to go over there.  Jews could go here but Greeks had to stay there.  The clean could go here, the ritually impure had to be way over there.  To make matters worse, just the practical requirements of getting an animal all the way to Jerusalem for a sacrifice, favored the wealthy.  The wealthy could afford to just simply buy the best animals right there on the spot.  The poor could not.  The wealthy could pay to move to the head of the line.  The poor could not.

When Jesus cleansed the Temple he was showing the world the character of his whole life’s work… which was leveling the playing field so that EVERYONE could come to God on a level and equal playing field.  It’s the same thing St. Paul talks about in our second lesson for today.  There, Paul focuses just on equalling the difference between Greeks and Jews but in Galatians, Paul uses the long form of the same list and says, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”  As quickly as the world sets up one table for some people and a different one for others, Jesus will be there to turn them over. 

Now, of course, not everyone was super excited about Jesus’ idea to change things around.  The wealthy Jewish men who’s great, great, great grandfathers had built this Temple by carrying heavy stones, in the snow, uphill, both ways…  THEY thought it was fine just the way it was!  Thank you very much!  “Jesus, we’ve always done it this way!”  “Doing it THIS way is beautiful... it's part of our identity!”  “Jesus, doing things differently, letting others in, changing the order of what goes on here... You're asking us to give up a part of who we are!”  

And you know what?  They weren’t wrong.  Jesus WAS asking them to change.  To do things differently.  To give up their privileged position of being the only ones who could easily connect with God.  For them… that was scary.  It was scary because human nature whispers in our ear and tries to convince us that if I share this thing that’s so important to me with someone else, that means there’s going to be LESS of that important thing for me!  And that little, whispered voice makes a bit of sense because if I have a bag of potato chips and give you some, then I have less chips for myself.  If I slice up a pie and give you a piece, that’s one less piece for me.  If one church joins with another church then your church is going to want a say in how things go and I won’t have as much power as I had before.

That little voice says “you won’t have it like you’ve always had it.”  It says, “You’ll have to do it differently and everything will be LESS than what it used to be!”  That little voice is hard to resist because for so much of what we experience in this world that little voice is right.  But here’s the thing Jesus knew as he crashed his way across the Temple square… God’s love, compassion, forgiveness and presence doesn’t work like potato chips, pecan pie or power.  

God is different.  When we share a handful of the forgiveness and grace we first get from God with someone else, there’s still an entirely FULL BAG of God’s forgiveness left over for us!  When we take that love we get from God and cut it into slice after slice after slice after slice and give it and share it and give it and share it wider and wider and deeper and deeper… when we look back… that pie plate is ALWAYS still FULL of God’s love… an endlessly powerful procession of pie for us and for all of creation!  

Folks, I’m here to tell you… I am the poster child for the fear of scarcity.  My “not having enough” button is the size of Montana and I’ve lived in Montana… believe me… it’s huge!  But when it comes to God’s love, God’s grace, God’s forgiveness and God’s care for us.  There isn’t a limit.  We need not worry that there will be less for us if we join with Jesus and turn over the tables and throw open the doors.  We don’t need to fret that there won’t be enough.  We don’t need to play the games of this world and constantly jockey for positions of privilege, power or place.  Because ALL that we have comes to us as a gift from God.  May we let down our guard, open the doors, flip over the tables and share all that we've been given with the world.  Believe me, after we’ve shared it, there’s still plenty more where that came from.  Amen. 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

This Is Only A Test

The Holy Gospel According to St. Mark, the 8th Chapter
Then Jesus began to teach the disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Do you remember mimeograph machines?  The smell?  How many of you did badly on algebra tests because you were high on mimeograph fumes?  For those from that era, the word “mimeograph” immediately connects with exactly what it was.  For others, not from that time, the word “mimeograph” has no connection with anything at all!  Mark’s Gospel (not originally printed on a mimeograph machine, by the way) uses a lot of language long separated from it’s original meaning.  Because of that, over time, some of the words and phrases have taken on new meanings that neither Mark nor Jesus ever intended.  

One of those is the idea that God must demand suffering as “satisfaction” for humanity’s sin.  That didn't originate with either Mark or Jesus.  It was an idea, created in the middle ages, because it seemed to make sense in that time.  Back then an insulted knight would throw down their gauntlet and “demand satisfaction!”  Human sin began to be seen as an offense to God’s honor and therefore God must “demand satisfaction” through suffering.  It made sense to the knights.  It’s just not what either Jesus or Mark meant.  

Jesus’ prediction that he would suffer, was not about God demanding suffering in payment for our sin.  That prediction was simply an acknowledgement that if Jesus was going to follow God’s call and confront the exploitive, violent powers of Rome… that was going to inevitably lead to his suffering.  He was planning to take on an Empire!  Taking on empires always hurts… a lot.

Another thing that’s gotten lost over the years, like kids knowing how to use a rotary phone, is what Jesus meant when he talked about "elders, chief priests and scribes".  Some now read that as Jesus attacking Judaism.  But for Mark, “elders, chief priests and scribes” was code for Roman collaborators.  Jesus never had an issue with Judaism.  He was Jewish after all!  But he had serious issues with folks who championed their religion one minute and then in the next minute, used Roman violence and corruption to make a themselves very rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and most vulnerable… something opposed over and over again in their religion.  
And then there’s Satan!  As confusing to many, as texting with thumbs is to me, Satan is that red guy with horns and a pitchfork, right?  Well, in reality, that idea of a personalized character with the proper name of “Satan” didn’t show up for well over a thousand years after Jesus was around.  In Jesus’ day, “a satan” was a job, NOT a red guy with horns.  A satan was someone who administered a test of morals and character.  When you came to a place in your life where you needed to choose which way to go… someone would inevitably offer you the choice.  Would you choose to go God’s way or a different way?  This week, Peter gave the test… Peter played the satan... and the test was HOW would Jesus be the Son of God.  Would Jesus confront the powers of the Roman Empire and their collaborators in God’s way... in other words, directly but non-violently, confronting their injustice and corruption and calling them, like the prophets before him, to return to God’s way of living?  OR would Jesus do it another way?  You see, Peter and almost the entire population of Israel at the time, thought the Messiah would usher in God’s Kingdom a different way… they would raise an army… fight a holy war… defeat the Romans, throw Herod off the throne and rule with strength and might like King David did back in the glory days!  He'd make Israel great again!  But going to Jerusalem unarmed, without an army? That'll just get you killed.  

The test Peter administered to Jesus all those years ago is the same test we are being given today.  Like Jesus, we too are being called to usher in God’s Kingdom… to work at changing the world.  Now like then, suffering happens today for those who work for God’s Kingdom, not because God demands satisfaction for our sins, but because confronting violence, injustice, racism, sexism and all the other isms that make up the brokenness of our status quo world, will run us directly into very angry people and seemingly immovable systems who do NOT want their world to change.  

Today, just like back then, there are people who hide behind the words and images of their religion, but who have set aside the principles of that religion to cozy up to those in power.  They do twists and bend principles in a way that a sideshow contortionist would envy, simply to justify collaborating with those in power… even though those in power embrace the same sort of violence, corruption, and immorality that the law, the prophets and Jesus opposed all those years ago.

This, like other times in history, is a time of testing.  The test, as it always does, has two parts.  A part that asks us what sort of world we want to work for, and a part that asks us HOW we will work to create that world?  Will we work toward the Kingdom of God… a world where everyone has enough… enough food, shelter, health care, safety, dignity and purpose… or will we work for a world where only the strongest survive?  Will we do that work the Jesus Way… through compassion, sacrifice, direct, but non-violent confrontation, caring for the least, the last and the lost along the way?  Or will we look to use might to make the world right, using stronger armies, greater force, and spiraling violence believing the ends justify any means we might use along the way?  These were the questions back then for Jesus and these are the questions for you and me today.  How will we answer?  Our test begins… now.  Amen.  

Friday, February 16, 2018

Down By the Riverside

Genesis 9:8-17

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

Do you know that song, “Down By the Riverside”?  

I’m gonna lay down my sword and shield, 
down by the riverside (x3)
I’m gonna lay down my sword and shield,
Down by the riverside

Well that song’s been stuck in my head all week because the first lesson for today is all about laying down a weapon of war.  That bow God sets in the clouds… that bow ISN’T simply a rainbow.  When God said, “I have set my bow in the clouds” the Hebrew word for “bow” is specifically the word for a WAR BOW… It’s a weapon of war that God’s hung up.  So even though it’s not about a sword and shield, God’s still saying…

I ain’t gonna study war no more (x3)

God knows how tempting it is to use violence to get what we want… tempting to be used even as a means to achieve peace, security and safety for the world.  This story says it’s SO tempting that even God, it would seem, was once willing to try to achieve peace through the violence of a flood.  

Surely, God once thought, with a God-sized war bow a God-sized flood could be rained down on the earth and surely THAT would bring the world to peace.  But it didn’t.  Even a good guy with a bow couldn’t force the world into peace.  Even in Biblical proportions, it STILL didn’t lead the world back to safety and peace.  This story is put right at the very beginning of the whole of Scripture, in the hopes that we might learn, right off the bat, that even if we could bring God-sized violence to the earth, it would still NEVER lead to our security, our safety or to peace.

This story screams at us, using the most dramatic and awful imagery we could possibly ever imagine, that our path to security, safety and peace will NOT be found with more or more powerful bows of war, raining down even Biblical amounts of fury on the world.  In this story God is pleading with creation to learn this lesson… to learn directly from the Divine experience… the ONLY place for a bow of war, is hanging in the clouds.   

This week, was the 18th school shooting this year… that’s three per week… so once again it's clear, that we have not yet learned that lesson.  We have turned our national back on the wisdom of our God who showed us the futility of violence and demonstrated for us the only way forward was to hang up the bow.  In 2012 following Sandy Hook, Gary Wills wrote an article for the New York Review of Books entitled “Our Moloch.”  I try to share it, following the lead of a friend, after every mass shooting… although there are so many, I confess that I miss some.  Moloch is the name of a demon from Leviticus… a god to whom communities would sacrifice their children in exchange for the Moloch’s promise of security.  Wills writes, “Few crimes are more harshly forbidden in the Old Testament than sacrifice to the god Moloch… Ever since then, worship of Moloch has been the sign of a deeply degraded culture.”  “The gun,” Wills contends, “is our Moloch.”  

What that means, is to think that we have simply have a gun problem misses something much more deeply disturbing and that is that we have a demon problem.  This demon insists on being fed our children three times a week in exchange for the promise that we will somehow be safe!  I have yet to see even an inkling of a delivery on that promise of safety and in any case, the price this demon asks is much, much too high.  Now, I’m not into literal demons, although there is much more to the universe than I can wrap my mind around, but this metaphor is the best way I’ve found to explain the senseless, illogical, continued devotion and worship of a thing that demands the lives of our children three times a week!  

So where do we go from here?  How do we fight a demon!  Where do we find hope?  I believe hope is to be found, not coincidentally, DOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE.  In the waters of Baptism we have the answer.  Because in the sacrament of Baptism there is an exorcism.  It's not referred to by those words anymore and it's not anything like the movies, but that's what it is.  We ask, “Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?” and the reply is “We renounce them!”  We ask, “Do you put your whole trust in God’s grace and love” and the reply is, “I DO!”  And when we come up out of the water we hear the same words said over us that were said over Jesus… “You are my child, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” and so in Baptism we put down our trust and devotion and worship of the sword and shield and exchange them for the long white robes of Baptism as we are clothed in Christ: 

I’m gonna put on my long white robe,
Down by the riverside (x3)
I’m gonna put on my long white robe,
Down by the riverside

You see, in baptism, we, like Jesus are given the strength to go into the wilderness of our lives and into the wilderness of this world and live even among the wildest of beasts, resisting the temptation to take down that bow of war and attempt to manufacture our own safety.  In our baptisms we are connected to the power of the resurrection, a power no weapon of war could ever even begin to match.  In the resurrection is the real power to bring peace out of fear and life out of death.  

May we hold tight to God’s promise made to us in our Baptisms, that there is safety and life only in the ways of the God, who long ago hung up the Divine Bow for good and proclaimed so that we might follow:  

I ain’t gonna study war no more (x3)

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Candy Hearts and Ashes

The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, the 6th Chapter

"Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

"So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

  "And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

  "And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Happy Ash Valentine’s Wednes- Day?  There have been endless jokes in the nerdy clergy circles I run in, about Ash Wednesday falling on Valentine’s Day this year.  Memes on the internet of little candy hearts that say, “You are Dust!” or “Dust 2 Dust” using the number 2.  And then there have been the hyper-serious clergy types that chastise their colleagues who even hint about joking about this in any way!  But come on!  This is weird!  Ignoring it won’t make it any less strange!  And really, this is the way life happens most of the time, isn’t it?  Life is rarely one thing or another.  Life is almost always a mix of things as bizarre as Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday falling on the same day!  Life is BOTH pink candy hearts AND ashes…  Both “Be my Valentine” AND “You are dust and to dust you shall return.”  So what are we going to do with this day that seems, at first glance, like the worst sort of heavenly calendaring blunder?  Well, I don't think raising one up and ignoring the other is the way to go.  Instead, I think we should try to hold them both together in all their strangeness and see what they have for us when held together.  

Both days do have at least one thing in common.  They've both become a bit twisted over the years.  Ash Wednesday wasn’t originally intended as a day to usher in a season of suffering for suffering’s sake.  Suffering just for suffering’s sake is frankly pretty twisted and twisted isn't really God’s style.  Lent was really meant as a time to focus... to focus people on their upcoming Baptism or focus on a return to the relationship made in the waters of Baptism.  Lent was a time to either give up things or take on things that would help us steer our lives more directly toward, and more deeply into, our relationship with God.  So, for us today, if candy and chocolate distract you from moving deeper into your relationship with God, then by all means give them up for Lent!  But if it happens to be something like over scheduling your life or a need to be perpetually busy or something else that gets in the way of being still and better knowing God… well then, keep eating the chocolate and give up some of the “crazy” that makes life so frantic and distracted.  

That’s really true for Valentine’s Day as well, isn’t it?  It’s become this consumer driven, present buying, anxiety ridden day.  But really, isn't the point of Valentine’s Day to take time out of all the frantic, over busy, distracting aspects of life and do something that will move you toward and more deeply into the relationship you have with your significant other?  So, if candy and flowers and dinner do that… if those things grow your relationship deeper, then by all means do them!  But if what would really grow that relationship deeper is a walk together in a place with absolutely the WORST possible cell service… then maybe THAT’s the thing to do instead.  

It turns out the point of Lent and the point of Valentine’s Day aren’t as different as we first might have thought.  Ash Wednesday, in the best understanding, is a specific day, set aside to reflect on the ONE who loved us into being... into life!  It's a day to take a good look at our mortal selves in the mirror and see where we might have become distracted from the ONE who loved us into life… see where we’ve fallen short in our relationships with God and one another and make a commitment to do something intentional that will both sweep out the distractions and at the same time broaden and deepen that relationship.  Valentine’s Day too, at it’s best, is a day set aside to sweep away the distractions of the world.  Reflect on the gift of the relationships we have in our lives and commit ourselves once again to sweeping aside distractions and focusing again on broadening and deepening our relationships with those we love.  

The REAL goal of both of these days is to give us time to pause in our hectic lives, reorient ourselves back to an orientation around love, and change our focus from ourselves and our wants, back toward God and the others in our lives.  Do your current Lenten plans help you do that?  If they do, that’s great!  But if they don’t, then there’s still time to change plans and do something different.  What REALLY gets in the way of loving God and loving your neighbor?  What REALLY needs to be set aside so that you can focus?  Like I said, there’s still time to change your plans.  

May both your Lenten plans and your Valentine’s Day plans move you closer to the One and the ones you love.  May you honestly confront the things that distract you and courageously sweep them aside.  May you move closer and more deeply into your relationships with God and with the people in your life, so that you may more deeply experience the abundant, meaning-filled life God created you to live.  Amen.  

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Hey Ma! How 'Bout Some Mini Corn Dogs!

The Holy Gospel According to St. Mark the 1st Chapter

As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

This Gospel lesson always reads like a Saturday Night Live skit to me!  Jesus and the boys head over to Simon’s place after a hard day of preachin’ and exorcisin’ demons, ‘cause that stuff makes a disciple HUNGRY, don't cha know!  Simon yells out for his mother-in-law.  “Hey ma, whatcha got to eat around here?”…MA!!  Where are you? Ma?”  Simon looks all over the house and then finds her in bed with a horrible fever.  

“OH MAN!” Simon says, “She’s got a fever!  Now we’ll NEVER get something to eat!”  Just then, Jesus hoists himself up off the plaid couch in the living room, walks over to Simon and says,  “Lemme see what I can do.”  Then, with a miraculous touch… WHOOSH!  She’s HEALED and walks out into the living room…  just to have Simon come up and immediately steer her off into the kitchen to whip up a bunch of mini corndogs, cheese dip and quesadillas!

So, that’s probably not EXACTLY how it happened, but every time I read that part that says, “as soon as Jesus healed her she got up and served them”… it always makes me chuckle.  In reality, what Jesus was showing us here is how we are all intimately connected, and interdependent upon one another.  Jesus healed people and cast out demons, NOT ONLY to bring an INDIVIDUAL to health again, but to also bring healing and wholeness to the entire community.  With that individual restored to the community, able to once again use their gifts, now the whole community is made whole again!

Demons and illness aren’t just bad for the person affected.  When sickness, demons or anything keeps an individual from playing their part and using their gifts to build up the people around them, it affects the wellbeing of the whole community!  Simon’s mother-in-law was a widow.  Which means she didn’t have a legal place in the community.  She wasn’t living with her own family or even her husband’s family, she was living with in-laws.  But even without a legal status, her role in the family and in the community was vital.  She mattered because by using her gifts, she built up the community around her.  

By healing the sick and casting out the demons, Jesus didn’t just heal an individual.  He also returned the entire community to wholeness!  That’s why this story isn’t just another miracle for us to marvel at the powers of Jesus.  This was a parable, acted out without words.  With this action, Jesus was teaching something very counter-cultural for his day and sadly it’s still very counter-cultural in our day as well.  Jesus was insisting that EVERY individual is a critical, essential part of the community.  EVERY individual matters, everyone has a place, everyone plays an essential role in making the community whole.  When even one individual is put on the sidelines for ANY reason, the WHOLE community suffers without them being present and active in their lives.  

That’s really the heart of the message Jesus was bringing to Capernaum and throughout Galilee.  In Christ, God is about the business of making bodies whole.  Individual bodies whole.  Church bodies whole.  Community bodies whole and the body of all of creation whole.  Jesus insisted that the path to that wholeness was through the radical inclusion of ALL people.  No person is expendable.  Every person, town, city, state and nation is valuable and essential to the wholeness of the world.  It was quite a lesson way back then and not exactly one we’ve fully learned even now.  It’s a message that insists that until every single individual has an equal place where they can live with health, dignity and purpose and use their gifts… until that happens, none of us will be whole.  Until that happens, the world just isn't working the way God intends it to work.

As Christians though, we’re called to do more than to simply lament over our species' slow learning speed.  We’re ALSO called to transform those words and ideas into a new reality for our world… just like Jesus did.  It’s not enough to stay out of the way and hope for God to bring in the Kingdom; we’re called to actively work with God to MAKE God’s Kingdom come and God’s will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  

For most of us that won’t look like casting out demons in the classic sense or healing someone’s fever with a miraculous touch.  It will look like more like widening our welcoming circle.  It will look like finding a place for each person to fit... and not just a place to sit and watch, but a place where each of us can contribute and build the Kingdom alongside the rest of us.  It will look like keeping our eyes open for those who have been cast out, cast down or cast away and finding a way to bring them in, lift them up and draw them near. 

Jesus brought God’s wholeness to individuals, but he did that as a means to bring wholeness communities and to all of creation as well.  As the Body of Christ bringing wholeness is what we do too!  May we proclaim the message of God’s desire of wholeness for the world!  May we cast out the demons that insist some individuals, communities or nations are LESS.  May we, with even the seemingly simplest of actions, bring wholeness into the world, and may we smile when we realize that even something as mundane as shuffling out to the kitchen to make the "boys" some mini corndogs widens our circles and moves us one step closer to God's Kingdom.  Amen.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Behind Stone and Stained Glass

The Holy Gospel According to St. Mark the 1st Chapter

They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee. 

“I bet you can think of something that matters to you, that you WISH mattered to more people.”  That’s how Nina Simon, the director of the MAH, the Museum of Art and History in Santa Cruz, California, opens her TED talk.  When she arrived as it’s new director they were out of money.  But actually, that wasn’t their biggest problem.  More people in town knew the building that housed the MAH was the former jail, than knew it was now a museum… and it had been a museum for 20 years!  They had to find a way to make their museum matter to those on the outside.  But you can’t just scream, “WE MATTER!” and expect those on the outside to come piling in, can you?  Those on the outside have to DECIDE you matter and to do that, they have to find a way inside.

In the synagogue, the things Jesus was teaching, mattered!  People were ASTOUNDED, after all!  In Corinth, what Paul had to say also mattered.  And right here behind our own stone and stained glass, what we have to offer really matters!  We have a radical welcome here, in a world that spins people apart instead of pulling them together.  In here everyone has a place.  In here there’s a deep and genuine caring for one another which is very unique.  In here everyone matters and that’s ASTOUNDING! 

The trouble in that synagogue where Jesus was teaching, was that unclean spirit with all of it’s drama, was in effect, slamming the door shut on what Jesus had to say.  In Corinth too, the door to people being able to hear and experience God’s infinite love was being slammed shut as well.  The Christians were buying meat that had been sacrificed to idols.  To Paul and the Christian insiders, they knew idols weren’t real.  To the insiders, this was just meat!  But to the outsiders, Christians saying, “There is only one God” and then eating this meat sacrificed to idols was confusing.  That confusion kept the outsiders outside.  

You and I… we’re insiders here.  We KNOW the astoundingly good stuff here behind our stone and stained glass!  We KNOW we’re welcome… we KNOW we have a place… we KNOW we’re loved and cared for here just as we are!  But as outsiders drive by every day, they’re asking themselves, “Is what happens in there… behind that stone and stained glass… Is it worth the effort to try to find a way inside?”  We KNOW it is!  But they can’t see past the stone and stained glass any more than the people could hear Jesus over the rantings of that demon or the Corinthians could see past their confusion about the meat sacrificed to idols.  Casting out that demon opened a new door that let in the outsiders.  Choosing to avoid meat sacrificed to idols opened a new door which let Corinthian outsiders inside that Christian community.  At the MAH they brought their museum out to a bar so those who had always driven by before, might find a new doorway to get inside.

But demons, change and new doors are't easy.  Demons always promise to be quiet if we just do things the way we’ve always done them.  Change is easier to swallow if it’s those on the outside who do the changing and it’s always easier to open old doors wider than it is to knock a hole in a wall and put in some strange, new door.  But God sent Jesus, not more commandments and Paul asked the insiders to change for the sake of those on the outside.  

It’s true, the old, familiar ways work for insiders, but “insiders” aren’t EVERYONE and God is obsessed with including everyone!  So, demons need to be confronted, comfortable ways need to change and new doors need to be opened so that those folks who have always just driven by might now see a way to come inside and see what’s going on in here behind the stone and stained glass.  

What’s that look like?  THAT’S a good question!  I’m not sure, but I suspect, it will feel a little itchy.  At the MAH, Nina Simon did a VERY provocative pop-up museum, not at the museum, but in a bar.  People who had never been inside the MAH before, suddenly had a way to experience it!  But their museum in a bar made the MAH insiders a little itchy.   She had, in effect, blasted a hole in the wall of the museum and installed a crazy, new, neon-pink door to get inside.  “Why do we need this crazy new, neon-pink way in to our museum?  The regular door's always worked fine for us!”  The the insiders asked.  To which Nina Simon replied, “Because the outsiders never used that door and we needed to find a way to let them in so they could see! 

Jesus did just that.  He opened new doors.  It’s not that the old doors were bad or broken or obsolete.  It’s just that there were still too many of God’s children stuck on the other side, who, for one reason or another, couldn’t find a way inside.  A new door needed to be opened so that ALL of God’s children could find their way in!  

What we’ve got in here, behind our stone and stained glass, isn’t meant to be a secret.  It’s WAY too good to be kept a secret!  May we trust Jesus to sweep away and cast out the things that get in the way of people finding their way to this side of our stone and stained glass.  May we trust God to get us through the itchiness that always happens when you open new doors.  And may the people of Sheffield, who have always driven by the outside of our stone and stained glass… may they discover a new door through each one of us, so that they too, might come in and be ASTOUNDED.  Amen.