Sunday, September 16, 2018

This Means Something

Mark 8:27-38

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Then he began to teach them 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.”

As Christians, one of the things we believe is that Jesus is both, fully human and fully divine. Now, I’ve never been that good at math but my math is good enough to know that being BOTH 100% human and 100% divine, just doesn’t add up. How can anything, or anyone, be 100% one thing AND 100% another thing? The mind gets boggled… well… MY mind gets boggled! 

Most people really don’t like their minds being completely boggled all the time and so, most of us… including me… tend to think of Jesus as mostly one or the other. I tend to do that in the same direction Peter did. Me and Peter… we like the Divine part best. “Who do you say that I am?” You’re the Messiah! The Son of the Living God, King of Kings, Lord of Lords! WooHoo! Go, Fight, Win, Divinity!

Which worked GREAT for Peter… for exactly three verses and then it all comes crashing down with, “Get behind me Satan!” The truth is, the 100% human part of Jesus, much to mine and Peter’s chagrin, insists on equal billing. Jesus demands we walk the knife’s edge and give Jesus BOTH his full divinity AND his full humanity. As I worked on this lesson, I could clearly see that, but honestly, I still really didn’t like it all that much. So I did what preachers do, and went way back to the beginning of Mark to see if I could preach around this thing! Instead, this is what I found:

Mark’s Gospel starts with John the Baptist, Jesus’s Baptism and the voice of God saying “You’re my Son!” DIVINITY! Great! But IMMEDIATELY Jesus is pushed out into the desert to be tempted by Satan. HUMANITY. Jesus walks by the sea, calls a few fishermen, teaches, casts out demons and heals Simon’s mother in law and when word gets out he heals the whole town. DIVINITY. Then while it was still dark he snuck out and went to a secluded place to pray and recover. HUMANITY. He tried to move on to do more teaching and was stopped by a leper, whom he healed. DIVINITY. Then got thrown out of a temple for his teaching. HUMANITY. Told a paralytic to “Take up your mat and walk!” DIVINITY. Got in a theology fight with the Pharisees. HUMANITY. Healed a withered hand. DIVINITY. Went out to sea to get away. HUMANITY. Huge crowds follow and called him the SON OF GOD. DIVINITY. Fights with his family who thinks he’s crazy. HUMANITY. Heals a Demoniac. DIVINITY. Escapes in a Boat. HUMANITY. Heals a bleeding woman and raises a dead girl. DIVINITY. Gets rejected in his hometown. HUMANITY. Sends the disciples out to heal people and they did! DIVINITY. Grieves the brutal death of his friend John the Baptist. HUMANITY. Feeds five thousand! DIVINITY! Sends the disciples off and climbed a mountain to pray exhausted. HUMANITY. Walks on water. DIVINITY. Fights with the Pharisees and goes up North to get away. HUMANITY. Heals the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter and the old Jewish deaf man and fed four thousand. DIVINITY. Escapes the crowd to get away to Caesarea Philippi. HUMANITY. Asks the disciples “Who do you say that I am” and Peter responds for the group and says “DIVINITY” and Jesus tells them he must suffer and die in his full… HUMANITY. Peter says “GOD FORBID YOUR HUMANITY” and Jesus says to Peter, “GET BEHIND ME SATAN!”  

I know that was long, but to be fair, that was the entire first HALF of Mark’s Gospel! But do you see it? This means something! Jesus going back and forth between showing his HUMANITY and then his DIVINITY! That’s taken me 20 years of wearing this dress almost every Sunday to see! And what I’m beginning to see is that you and I… if we’re honest… we know NOT ONE THING about how to do miraculous healings, raise the dead or walk on water (unless you’ve been holding out on me!). But you and I… we know a LOT about desert times, fights with bullies, and living with families who think we’re crazy. You and I can relate to being tired, worn, and not acting out of our best selves. You and I know all about trying to get some peace, only to be tracked down by a kid, an office, a full-on-real emergency, or a perceived emergency about potato salad. You and I know what it is to be rejected. You and I know the real and deep pain of the death of someone we love. You and I know what it is to think about and face our own mortality. You and I… we KNOW humanity.  

So, Jesus SHOWS us his humanity, because THAT’s the part of Jesus that we can recognize more easily in ourselves… and in his humanity he’s given us a door. A door through which we’re being invited over and over and over again to walk with Jesus from our very recognizable communion with his humanity into the much more difficult to see, but just as real, communion with his Divinity! St. Paul said it this way, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

I think, we’re being shown, over and over and over again the fullness of Jesus’s humanity so we can better see ourselves in that fully human person of Jesus. THEN, seeing ourselves in Jesus… Jesus becomes a person who is easy to relate to… easy to walk with… easy to live with. Then, as we walk that walk, day after day, walking and living with Jesus and our lives continue to grow in compassion, love, generosity and grace… grow into the Jesus WAY of living… we eventually walk right into the Truth… that we not only walk and live and share in Jesus’s humanity, but in some mysterious way… through a complete and unimaginable gift of immeasurable love… we’ve also been walking and living, fully wrapped up in and fully embraced by Jesus’s Divinity. And in Jesus’ Divine embrace, we not only walk toward life… but WE… HAVE… LIFE! A life of meaning, purpose, dignity and worth. And in that amazing gift which comes to us free in the waters of Baptism we’ve been given everything we need to play our part in the work God has given us to do, which as Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is fond of saying, is to “change the world from the nightmare it is for so many into the dream that God intends.”  By walking with Jesus we will find we have all the humanity and all the divinity we need to do this work in the world.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Circles

The Holy Gospel According to St. Mark, the 7th Chapter

From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

At the consecration of the first building of this church, this is part of what was written:  

“We have a building capable of seating one hundred persons and would be glad to see every space filled, whenever services are held.  The seats are FREE, and we assure the inhabitants of this and adjoining towns, that the church was not built simply to accommodate ‘ourselves,’ neither are the services or the Sunday School conducted with any such intention…Our idea was that its use and purpose should be to further the cause of Christianity, believing that one soul in the sight of God and the angels is the peer of any other, whether it be possessed by a person of mean estate, or of high degree; whether he be white or black, artisan, farmer, merchant, priest or king… Each and every one, of whatever faith, or of no faith, will find a generous welcome.”

That’s from OUR 1868 welcome statement! 1868! 1868. It reminds me of that little verse by Edwin Markham:  

He drew a circle that shut me out –
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in.

It is the drawing of circles that our lessons challenge us with today. Who should be drawn inside as recipient of God’s grace?  Who is worthy of healing?  Who deserves the power of Christ to work in their lives?  Who’s “in” and who’s “out”?  When that GENTILE…FOREIGN… WOMAN... asked for help with her DAUGHTER..., she should have been out four times over!  She was a Gentile... OUT!  A woman...OUT OUT!  A foreigner...OUT OUT OUT!  And asking about a child?... OUT OUT OUT OUTIDY OUT!!!! 

Now, some would say that Jesus saw this confrontation coming and his ugly response to this woman was just Jesus playing into the cultural, circle-drawing stereotypes of his day on purpose, to prove a point, but I’m not so sure. I think there’s at least an even chance that his internal editor had run out of juice for the day and this woman got a full dose of Jesus’ humanity. He was fully human, after all, and he had just had a fight with the Pharisees. Those sorts of fights take a toll. So Jesus left town and went up North, not just to the Middle Eastern equivalent of Maine but to Middle Eastern Equivalent of Aroostook County Maine! He got WAY away hoping to recover from that very normal human emotional drain, only to be tracked down one more time by this woman! We’ve all said hurtful things when we’re tired and worn. One of the things this lesson reminds me of is that Jesus was fully human and in  that way, a lot like me.

But whether Jesus saw this coming or responded at first out of his less-than-best self, it really doesn’t matter in the end. The take home lesson is the same!  God’s love had the wit to win!  God drew a circle and took her in!  God’s grace, love, healing, and salvation is boundless.  God’s love draws a big enough circle to include a desperate gentile woman with a demon possessed daughter! But wait, there’s more!  
The next little story about the deaf man makes sure we REALLY get the point of this lesson. It was a foreign woman before but now it’s a Jewish man. She had chased Jesus down. He was brought to Jesus by others. She was asking about her daughter. It was he, himself who was deaf and speechless. 

These two stories together make it clear, the who, what, how or when just don’t matter so once again, God draws a circle big enough for the likes of HIM... and here's what these two lessons together pound home... if God can draw a circle to include the likes of HER… and if God can draw a circle to include the likes of HIM, perhaps… just maybe we might begin to believe that God might even draw a circle large enough to include the likes of you... or maybe… just MAYBE… even the likes… of ME.  

The world draws circles. Female and male, white and black, gay and straight, immigrants, refugees, natives and aliens, conservatives and liberals, Episcopalians and Lutherans, Decaf and Regular!  Those circles include some… but also always exclude others. BUT you see, when Jesus stuck his fingers in that deaf man’s ears and said “Be Opened” he was opening WAY more than just a deaf man’s ears!  When Jesus said “Be Opened!” He opened ALL the circles that had been drawn around that man… circles labeling him as possessed, cursed, outcast, disabled, broken and unwelcome… all of those circles that had excluded him before were now ripped wide open and all the love, grace, healing, compassion, inclusion, and life came flooding in!

Now one woman and one man drawn into God’s grace is great but that isn’t the end of this story. On the cross, Jesus said, “It is finished!” and as the curtain in the Temple ripped from top to bottom… in that moment, Jesus stuck his fingers in the ears of all creation, spit at death and the devil and tore open every circle that had ever been drawn from top to bottom for EVERYONE and all of creation! And to this day, God in Christ keeps ripping wide open the circles the world draws, faster than anyone can draw them, build them or tweet them and God draws them so they include EVERYONE!  Our challenge, as individuals and as a church, to keep drawing the circles we inevitably draw in our more human moments, wider and wider and wider so that each day, even when we’re tired, we draw our circles more and more like God draws circles… until our circles are big enough to include all of creation, just like God’s circles!

Our WALI group (We Already Live It) has been working on just that! They are, right now, crafting a new welcoming statement to expand the circle of our church’s original 1868 welcoming statement around people who were not even on the radar of our foremothers and forefathers in 1868… which we shouldn’t fault them for since there wasn’t even radar in 1868! But working in those founder’s inclusive spirit, who made the most radical welcome they could possibly imagine in their day, our group is now working on a statement to add all the people we’ve grown better able to see over the last 150 years.  

I am so thankful for the amazingly inclusive, founding DNA of our congregation. I’m so thankful that it is still alive and active and at work to this day, calling us with love, to keep breaking open old circles and allowing God’s love and grace to rush right in! May we always draw ever bigger circles so that one day the whole of creation will know and experience the welcome of God’s incredible love through us. Amen. 

Thursday, August 23, 2018

All In

John 6:56-69 

Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”


“Have you been saved?”  When I’m asked that I say “YES”... because I am... and, well... because I like to mess with people who ask that question.  Then, when I’m inevitably asked next, WHEN was I saved?  I say “On the first Easter, about 2000 years ago!”  Now, I know THAT'S not the answer they’re looking for, but it’s TRUE... and I like to mess with people.     

You see, God’s done all the saving in Christ’s life, death and resurrection.  Like the hymn says, “The strife is O’er, the Battle Won!”  On that first Easter, God made the salvation decision for all of creation and God’s decision was, “You’re ALL IN!”  Our tradition is pretty good at remembering that, but sometimes we forget there actually are SOME decisions that ARE for us to make... NOT decisions that make or break salvation... but decisions about how we choose to live in RESPONSE to that gift we’ve been given.  

It’s like the decision Joshua asked the people of Israel to make.  The people were IN the Promised Land.  They were there, so their decision would not determine if they got there or not…'cause...they were there!  Their decision was how they would now RESPOND.  The crowds in the Gospel lesson faced a similar decision.  How would they RESPOND to the gift which God had given them in Jesus?  Jesus was there.  The gift was given.  A decision to not follow Jesus wouldn’t cause God to vacuum Jesus back up to heaven and take salvation away!  But the crowds and the disciples DID have a decision to make.  Would they drink in the Jesus life... a life where they wouldn’t be in complete control... a life filled with mystery and an uncertain future... a life that led them to do what was in the other’s best interest instead of a life focused on what’s in it for me and what makes ME feel good, OR... would they go a different way?    

In today’s Gospel, a huge number of people chose to go a different way.  The mystery of the flesh and blood was just too much.  The lack of control was too much.  So they decided to take a different path.  To stop following the Jesus Way of living.  After they left, Jesus turned to the disciples and asked them to decide as well.  Would they continue to follow or not?  You see, neither Joshua nor Jesus wanted the people to “PLAY” at their faith any longer.  Both challenged the people... to EITHER go ALL IN and BE God’s people ALL THE WAY or don’t.  A wishy washy fence sitting faith, wasn’t an option any more. 

I think that’s where we are in the church these days.  These days we wring our hands about declining church membership and some look fondly back to the days when our culture and grandma successfully guilted folks into church membership.  But I think this new world we live in might just be a gift because… well… you’re here!  And you’re here not because it makes you look like a good American to your neighbors and not because it makes grandma happy and not because you need a church membership to advance in your career.  You’re here... at least I hope you’re here... because you have come to the decision that Jesus REALLY DOES have the words of eternal life.  You’re here because you’ve decided that drinking in the Jesus life... a life filled with generosity, compassion, radical inclusion, love and grace... brings your life and this world a tiny bit closer to the Kingdom of God every day…  Because living the Jesus Way leads you bit by bit toward a life overflowing with meaning, purpose, direction and joy!  You’re here because you’d rather be part of a smaller group of dedicated, passionate, authentic, self declared saints and sinners, than part of a huge group of fake, plastic, superficial people trying to satisfy their deepest longings with things like power, wealth and fame which, God knows, will never come close to filling anybody up.  

The people answered Joshua, saying “We have decided to follow the LORD, for he is our God.”  Simon Peter answered for the group, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”  You and I have the same decision to make... but it’s really not just one decision.  It's about a million little decisions… those tiny decisions we make in every moment of every day of our lives.  In each of those particular moments, will we choose to live that moment the Jesus Way, OR the world’s way?  Will we welcome the stranger or send them away?  Will we feed the hungry or demonize them?  Will we stop to heal the sick or walk down the other side of the road?  Will we calm the storm or stir the pot?  Will we tell the truth or tell a lie?  Will we forgive the thief or seek revenge?  Will we make a friend or create an enemy?  Will we admit our faults or double down on them? Will we celebrate diversity or try to homogenize it?  Will we say words that build up or words that tear down?  Will we crucify others to get our way or will we raise others up to new life? 

We all have a million decisions just like that to make every day, in every seemingly insignificant interaction with every person we meet.  The Good News is that no matter if we choose the Jesus Way in one particular moment, OR fall short of the Glory of God and make a choice out of our fearfulness and brokeness, God’s decision FOR US… God’s love for us... remains unshakable and true.  

This next week, may God give each of us the power and the courage in each moment of our lives to choose to live our faith “ALL IN”... to fully drink in the Way, the Truth and the Life which God has given us freely in Christ.  May we drink in that Holy, that Eternal, that Transformed Life we have been given, and may we courageously choose in each of those moments to respond to the gift we’ve been given in the Jesus Way.  Amen.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Gnawing on Jesus

John 6:51-58

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”


I’m here to tell you… Barbecue. Is. Serious.  It demands serious time, dedication, and effort to make, AND to eat.  Twelve hours for pulled pork on the smoker to make.  A roll of paper towels and both hands to eat.  But even though it demands a serious investment of time and effort… it is SO VERY worth it!  The prep, the rubs, sauces, checking the fire at two in the morning… all that time and all that effort... it’s all worth it for the wonderful, succulent, juicy, sweet and spicy richness that is barbecue.

Jesus said to the people, “Very truly I tell you, unless you gnaw on my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life!”  The translators REALLY toned this one down.  Jesus didn’t say “eat” here.  Jesus did not say, “wearing the correct dinner jacket, one is to take one’s correct fork and sitting up straight, with one’s linen napkin in one’s lap, one is to take nice, polite, little bites.”  NOPE!  Jesus said GNAW!  He said roll up your sleeves, put your elbows on the table, grab the bone with both hands and GNAW!  Jesus said, “Get into it!  Get obsessed with it!  Get messy!  Get it stuck in your teeth.  Get sauce on your face and don’t expect to keep your shirt clean!”  Because NONE of that matters!  All that matters is the GNAWING… GNAWING all the way down to the bone!  Which sounds awesome when we’re talking about baby back ribs at a picnic table with rolls of paper towels for napkins, but in this Gospel lessen, Jesus ain’t talkin’ about baby back pork ribs.  He’s talking about baby back Jesus ribs here and that, understandably, freaked people out! 

Having my rabbi friend here last week reminded me of how shocking all this talk of eating flesh and drinking blood really was for the first people who heard this.  Many of us have heard it our whole lives, so the shock of it ends up just washing over us after all these years, but Jesus really said, “Those who gnaw on my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life.”  Then and now, those words were meant to be over the top, out of bounds, deal breaker… shocking!    

It’s no wonder the crowd couldn’t wrap their minds around what Jesus was saying.  It’s simply not something that is possible to wrap our minds around!  Now, lots of people over the last 2000 years have used a large volume of enormously sized words to try to explain all this, but I haven’t heard anyone who can fully explain it yet, no matter how many words of various sizes they use.  This idea of gnawing on Jesus, even when we set it into the context of the Eucharistic meal we share, is still mind blowing!  How is this Communion meal fully Christ’s Body and Blood?  It’s a mystery!  How, in this meal, are we given eternal life... it’s a mystery!  But “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them” is what Jesus was, and is, saying.  The honest truth is that nobody’s got this one all figured out.  

But, I think at least a part of what Jesus was trying to communicate with this incredibly graphic imagery, is that discipleship isn’t something that can be done in between the other parts of our lives.  Following Jesus isn’t a drive-through-window-meal on your way from one thing to another.  This shocking imagery is, at least in part, calling us to something that is all-encompassing… a whole-life-involving project that is much more like making barbecue which demands tending fires, cooking sauces, making rubs, mopping meat and smoking it low and slow for lots and lots of time and then settling in to a meal that will take hours and hours to eat, rather than eating something cooked in a minute and grabbed from a hand reaching out through a window.  That shocking imagery calls us to settle in and completely make Jesus a part of every moment of our lives because Jesus is the source of all goodness and life.  He is our true food and we are being called to invest EVERYTHING... all our time, all our skills and all our being into consuming the Jesus Way, the Jesus Truth, the Jesus Life, so that just like the food we eat, Jesus too becomes a part of every molecule of our bodies and the fuel we use to live our lives.

Like an amazing feast of real honest to goodness barbecue, Jesus is asking each one of us to invest REAL time, not just left-over or in-between time… and do the spiritual-practice equivalent of mixing spices, massaging in the rub and then patiently, slowly, passionately, smoking our faith over genuine hard wood.  Jesus is asking us to slow down and really see those people around us… to see and then care for those who live on the margins… to study, pray and live each day with deep care, patience and passion.  Jesus is calling us to gnaw on the gift of God’s infinite love and unconditional grace, and make that an integral part of every molecule of our being, so that the Jesus Way of living and loving ends up seeping out of our pores into the world like garlic through the skin.  

Discipleship isn't a McRib sandwich grabbed on a Sunday afternoon on our way to something else.  Discipleship is more like REAL barbecue.  Lovingly, miraculously, patiently and beautifully transforming something tough… someone tough… into an amazing thing that is real and fully authentic… gathering family and friends… sojourners and strangers… lovers and losers… rebels and refugees… gathering EVERYONE around God’s Table where there is a seat and a place set for EVERYONE.  Discipleship is all of us, making together, the deep commitment to gnaw and to savor every morsel of life we’ve been given, in the company of all our fellow saints and sinners… all of us together, reveling in each bone of that rich food filled with marrow, laughing and sharing together those well aged wines strained clear and going through roll after roll of the classiest sort of paper towel napkins, enjoying to the very fullest, the immeasurable sweetness and the beautiful spiciness of the abundant life that comes to us free… as a complete gift… as we gnaw on Jesus.  Amen.

Monday, August 13, 2018

@Ephisians #noroomforthedevil

Ephesians 4:25-5:2

So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

In a recent MIT study, they found that on Social Media, falsehoods travel faster than the truth. And not just a little bit faster… sometimes TEN to TWENTY TIMES faster than the truth! The professor who ran this study says, “We found that falsehood diffuses significantly farther, faster, deeper and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information.” You’ll be shocked… SHOCKED I tell you… to learn that political information spreads falsehoods the fastest. I told you you’d be shocked!  

In today’s second lesson, the Apostle Paul tweets to @Ephesians, “Putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.” #noroomforthedevil. For those of you not in the Social Media world, you’ll just have to trust me… that was a good one! 

Falsehoods spread faster than truth these days because of the technology we now have available to us, but the problem of falsehood and truth goes back way beyond the age of Twitter or Facebook… way back beyond the ancient technology of Myspace! The problem of falsehood and truth goes back before even the technology of papyrus and stone tablets and back to the very beginning of everything. Technology certainly cranks up the speed at which lies are spread, but spreading falsehoods isn’t a technology problem. As it was in the age before writing… as it was in the age of papyrus and paper and as it is now in the digital age… trafficking in lies is now, as it’s always been… a human problem, it’s human brokenness, it’s sin.  

One of the compounding problems with living in our world, where the old, human, sin of falsehoods are sped up to 100 Megabits per second, is that spreading those falsehoods becomes almost routine. With each of us literally swimming in a torrential flow of falsehoods every day, when WE do it, hardly anyone notices and then, as Walter Brueggemann says, “we forget to even blush.” This problem with spreading falsehoods may have been the Ephesians’ problem back then, but falsehoods, in all the forms they take, they’re our problem too. Our humanity is showing too. Our brokenness is seen in our mirrors as well. Our sin is no different than the Ephesians’ sin. We have met the Ephesians and the Ephesians is us!  

Fortunately though, we, like the Ephesians, have Paul’s advice for living in a world of falsehoods whether delivered by camel or computer. First he tells us when falsehoods fly… Be angry! It’s understandable to be angry! The inaccuracies, falsehoods and lies used to justify, endorse or cover up inhumanities done to our neighbors warrants our anger. BUT, he advises, don’t let that anger rule your life. Anger needs an expiration. Anger, Paul tells, us should expire at sundown. In the New Zealand Prayer Book’s Night Prayer, there’s a prayer that goes in part: “Lord, it is night. The night is for stillness. Let us be still in the presence of God. It is night after a long day. What has been done has been done; what has not been done has not been done; let it be. The night is dark. Let our fears of the darkness of the world and of our own lives rest in you.” Holding on to anger past sundown leaves room for the devil to muck about. I’m not so sure what that looked like back in the camel age, but in the computer age I think Paul is telling us, “It is wise to not Tweet, email or type any comment after sunset!” Imagine what our world would be like if we took Paul’s advice on that!  

But there’s more here for us from the Apostle Paul than only how we should fight AGAINST falsehood. More than just advice for working AGAINST the devil and more than only a warning to push back AGAINST bitterness, wrath, wrangling, slander and malice. When we see and hear the injustices of our world we are often quick to be angry, and like I said, there is a calling and a place for that sort of righteous anger. But all too often we end up living our lives perpetually AGAINST. 

“Against” is important and anger can be useful and the horrors of the world are so very horrible at times, that it can feel almost like a betrayal of the most vulnerable to let up on what we’re “Against” and not stay angry until the world is finally healed. But here’s the thing St. Paul knew back in the donkey age that still holds true in the digital age:  The world needs to be shown what the love of God in Christ looks like, just as clearly as the world needs to be shown the things that grieve the Holy Spirit!  

It most certainly IS our task to see injustice, to be angry and fight for justice… AND, AND, AND it is ALSO most certainly our task to model what the world will look like when “God’s will is done, on earth as it is in heaven.” The world needs us flawed but faithful people, to speak words that build up with grace JUST AS OFTEN as the world needs to hear us flawed and faithful people name the sins of greed, cruelty, racism, and violence.  

The world needs to see us being forgiving, being tenderhearted, and being kind to one another JUST AS OFTEN as the world needs to see us stand up for those pushed to the margins and then over the edges to be forgotten.  

The world needs us not only to be imitators of Christ in turning over tables and standing up to Empires, but the world needs us JUST AS MUCH to show it how to be imitators of Christ as beloved children, living in love as Christ loved us, giving all of ourselves to God and our neighbor.  

This world of ours moves at the speed of light these days. Falsehood travels up to twenty times faster than the truth! But don’t forget… you and I… we’ve been marked with the cross of Christ in the waters of Baptism… we’ve been sealed for the day of redemption… and God in Christ has forgiven us, set us free and given us life and that life in Christ we’ve been given, will carry us farther, faster, deeper and more broadly than even the most viral Tweet could ever hope to go!  Amen.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Just One Step

John 6:1-21

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand
in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

Today, Jesus takes the disciples to school.  Yeah, he also happens to feed 5000 people with divinely delicious fish sandwiches, but really, that’s NOT the point, not the main point anyway.  Feeding the 5000 is simply Jesus’ teaching tool du jour.  You see, Jesus didn’t JUST have his sights set on satisfying the bellies of those particular 5000 folks, just that one time, on top of that one hill in the middle of nowhere.  Jesus had his sights on the transformation and salvation of all of creation!  He fed 5000 people, sure, and free fish sandwiches are, without any doubt, really, really awesome, BUT he mostly fed 5000 people in order to teach the disciples then, and teach us disciples now, how we are to join in as God changes the world!  It turns out that the way you change the whole world is the EXACT same way you feed 5000 people… you see the need, you sit down, you say a prayer and then… you take one step. 

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” That’s an English adaptation of a quote from the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu.  It means that even the most impossible seeming distances are crossed by beginning the journey with one step and then another and then another.  We’ve been seeing that Chinese proverb literally lived out as we sit on the edge of the field inviting hikers from the Appalachian Trail to come over for snacks, water, conversation, a chair and a little shade.  By the time those hikers get to our little corner of the hay field on West Sheffield Road, they’ve walked, one step after another for over 1500 miles!  Every single one of them began that 1500 mile journey with just one step.  Just one!  

For those hikers their journey began first by becoming aware of the Appalachian Trail.  For some they have known about it their whole lives.  One guy from Maine has intentionally NOT hiked to the top of Mt. Kathadin before because he’s been saving it for when he finishes the whole trail.  Others learned about it in the middle of their lives.  One couple started thinking about it only five years ago and then thought, “Maybe we should see if we even like hiking and camping before we start.”  They had never hiked or camped before!  

For Jesus, the feeding of the 5000 began with seeing the crowd.  How could you miss a trail that goes up the whole East Coast?  How could you miss a crowd of 5000 people?  How could I miss a business between here and Great Barrington someone told me about the other day.  How did 80% of another church miss the homeless guy camping in the woods beside their church?  How did Phillip miss the kid with the bread and fish?  Jesus’s first lesson he taught was that the disciples needed to look up and NOTICE!  To see the people around them, to see the need around them, AND to see the blessings around them. 

Phillip couldn’t even see the kid with the bread and fish, and while Andrew saw it, he immediately dismissed it.  “What’s a couple fish and some bread among so many people?”  What that was, Jesus taught them, was a GIFT!  We so often focus not on what we have but on what we don’t have.  This is perhaps one of my greatest personal difficulties.  I’m constantly fighting that voice that says there’s not enough!  But, Jesus taught the disciples then and is trying to teach us disciples now, not to underestimate the power of some small gift just sitting there right in front of you!  

Jesus then modeled for the disciples the next critical lesson.  Sit down, give thanks and begin.  Jesus had the people sit down, he took the loaves and fish and gave thanks and then began to hand out fish sandwiches.  Did they have enough for the whole crowd?  Nope.  But Jesus was teaching them that amazing things happen as you walk the Jesus Way, or as Bishop Curry calls it, The Way of Love.  Amazing things come up all along the Way.  On the Appalachian Trail it’s called “Trail Magic” and many of the people who have stopped by our little spot have said that the “Trail Magic” they’ve encountered along the way has inspired them to begin to think differently… to think of ways they too could add a little spot of kindness to the world.  Our little corner of kindness in a manure strewn hay field is doing nothing less than changing the world!  Not all of it at once, but our little corner of kindness is appreciated and it will be remembered and brought back with hikers to New Zealand, Austrailia, Ireland, Germany, Japan, and countless other places.  Five loaves and two fish did more than the disciples could imagine.  Five watermelons and two canopies have already done more than us disciples could have imagined.  All sorts of things are possible from what seems like nothing.  There’s even this local nutter who looked around and started making bird houses out of an old fence!  He's selling them for our capital campaign!  It won't top off the capital campaign, but it's a step and who knows what will happen along the way!  

So the word for today is DARE!  Dare to look up from this heads-down, push through, no eye contact life… look up and SEE… really SEE the people around you and dare to look into their eyes and see their needs, their hopes and their dreams.  And when the problem you see there seems overwhelming and when the temptation hits to look away… to look back down… to not see it, because it's just too much to bear, try to resist looking down, and instead look around.  Look around and you’ll inevitably find a little basket of five loaves and two fish, or a fence that can be turned into bird houses, or a little grant or a neighboring church, or a friend to help… because it’s there… that little thing you need to begin is right there at your feet… and then, even though it’s not any where near enough to change the world in one fail swoop, pick it up anyway... then sit down, say a prayer of thanks and then… take a step.  As the Talmud says, “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief.  Do justly, now.  Love mercy, now.  Walk humbly, now.  You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”  See the need, find the gift, sit down, say a prayer of thanks and then… take a step.  Amen.   

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Tapping on a Single Pane

Jeremiah 23:1-6

Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord. The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

It’s been… a week.  On Monday when I didn’t know where I’d go with this sermon, Jean suggested I go with, “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord.”  And as that day developed and then moved on into the rest of the week, it seemed like she had been just as prophetic with that suggestion as Jeremiah had been when he first passed on those words from the Lord!  It has been QUITE the week.

It’s been a VERY challenging week for many people I think.  For me, who grew up during the Cold War with a dad who was a career Air Force officer it was a very challenging week.  My dad spent his entire career going places and working on projects we still know virtually nothing about.  Working to counter Cold War threats, he spent quite a bit of time away from home.  I have always felt that, in a way, I had proudly given up a part of my childhood for our country’s safety.  Because of that, I felt this week in a personal way. 

But as I stormed and stewed and went out to build another birdhouse to get away from the computer screen and the news… News about political shepherds destroying their sheep, a song came into my head.  It started very quietly.  Way back in the deep recesses of my continually graying, gray matter… The song just kept tapping, like a little bird, gentle tapping at a distant single-pane of window glass.  It seemed to be saying, “You’re in quite a lather today Erik."  It seemed to be asking, "Are you having trouble remembering the name of your Shepherd today?”  And slowly the song grew so I could just begin to hear it…

In the morning when I rise, In the morning when I rise,
In the morning when I rise, give me Jesus
Give me Jesus, give me Jesus
You may have all the rest, give me Jesus.

It seems that the Lord had compassion on me because I was acting like a sheep without a Shepherd.  I had a Shepherd.  A Good Shepherd for that matter, but I was acting like I had forgotten that… mostly because I had.  So with a song, begun faintly, far back, in the deepest recesses of my mind, God slowly turned my attention away from the news on the screens, Facebook and Twitter feeds… and like a loving mother gently turns their screaming toddler’s head so she can look into their eyes and reassure them after a bad dream, I slowly came back from the dark-as-midnight place I had been. 

Dark midnight was my cry, Dark midnight was my cry, 
Dark midnight was my cry, Give me Jesus.
Give me Jesus, give me Jesus
You may have all the rest, give me Jesus.

It turns out that the LORD is my Shepherd and no one else.  The LORD is our righteousness and no one else.  It is the LORD that leads me beside still waters.  It is the LORD that protects me with rod and staff.  It’s the LORD who is the true giver of justice and righteousness.  And so the disappointing actions of other would-be-shepherds were put back into perspective.  Jesus is Lord.  Caesar is not.  

As that song grew in my head, the darkness of the day and of this week began to break a little.  The song became louder… more insistent in my head, and then eventually it got to the point where the song, which began as an almost imperceptible tapping at the window glass, then drew my attention to that pre-dawn sort of light… that light that is always covered a bit with morning fog… and then the song just broke through like the dawn!

Just about the break of dawn, Just about the break of dawn,
Just about the break of dawn, Give me Jesus!
Give me Jesus, give me Jesus
You may have all the rest, give me Jesus.

So what now?  To be honest, I have no idea where the paths that lie ahead of us as individuals, as a nation and a world might go.  I’ve not lived as long as many but I think I’ve lived long enough to know that there is no permanent, magic solution on the horizon.  There are always dark valleys and unknown sorts of evil ahead.  We seem to be a species that learns lessons the hard way and forgets those lessons all too quickly.  What will next week bring?  There is no way to know.  What will happen with special councils, prosecutors, defendants and spies?  I don’t know.  What will happen with future elections, fear-filled followers, and the worst that we have yet to imagine, even while we’ve been forced to witness one “worst” we never thought we would see?  I have no idea what will happen next.  But I know now, what I hope I will remember to say then… even when the thing I face is death itself…

Oh when I come to die, Oh, when I come to die,
Oh, when I come to die, Give me Jesus.
Give me Jesus, give me Jesus
You may have all the rest, give me Jesus.

So my prayer for us as the world rages around us.  My prayer as we speak out against hatred, betrayal and injustice, as we must.  As we write our representatives and tell them of our Christian desire for a world of compassion, mercy, justice and peace, as we must.  As we vote for candidates that we believe will guide our world into a hope filled future, where everyone has enough, as we must… My prayer is that EVERY SINGLE WEEK, regardless of what is happening in the world, we will come to THAT TABLE… to the place where we are given Jesus!  Given Jesus as a free and gracious gift!  My prayer is that we will come to be fed and healed, simply by the touch of it!  And that we will be reminded that the LORD is our Shepherd… that the LORD is our righteousness and that fed with that spiritual food we will be able to return to that world outside… to that world that has seemingly gone stark-raving, loony-tunes mad and NOT despair!  My prayer is that returning from the Table we will instead be compelled to sing!  

And when I want to sing, and when I want to sing,
And, when I want to sing, give me Jesus,
Give me Jesus, give me Jesus
You may have all the rest, give me Jesus.