Thursday, July 13, 2017

Parable Impossipuzzle!

The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, the 13th Chapter
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 
Let anyone with ears listen!” “Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

Parables are hard because they’re tricksy.  They teach things we need to hear but often don’t want to hear.  To create his tricksy parables, Jesus used pieces of what seemed like a harmless story, and then, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, he shuffled them around in front of the crowd.  The crowds expected the pieces to form happy little farming or fishing pictures.  But then, as Jesus brought them together in his unique way, the picture became something quite challenging.  That’s why parables are hard.  

So here we have the pieces of a puzzle called The Sower.  Sounds harmless.  Let’s see how it comes together.  So, who’s the Sower?  At first shuffle you might expect the Sower to be Jesus, but as it comes together the Sower clearly is God and what God is sowing is the Word… the Word made flesh… Jesus.  The first thing that makes this hard is that it looks like God isn’t being at all careful with where Jesus gets spread!  It looks like a foolish waste of Jesus to spread him on hard paths, rocky soil and in weedy-thorny people.  But that’s exactly what this parable is insisting!  God has sent Jesus to all of creation and not one corner of creation is left out!  Where they live, who they are, what they’ve done, how mean they are, what they believe, how they vote, who they love… God just rains down Jesus all over the place sowing Jesus into everyone’s lives whether they know it or not, whether they like it or not, whether they believe it or not!  The Sower is more extravagant than Oprah!  You’ve got Jesus and You’ve got Jesus and You’ve got Jesus!  Everybody’s got Jesus!  And “everybody” sounds good at first, until you remember that “everybody” also includes THAT guy and THOSE people.  That’s when God’s radically extravagant, all inclusive Grace gets hard.  That’s part of the reason parables are hard.  

But that’s not the only hard piece of this Parable Impossipuzzle.  There’s the mystery of it all.  God, for whatever reason, has chosen to act in this world like a seed.  Not like a proper, all powerful God should be expected to act, with a volcano, earthquake or a giant rock squishing bad people from outer space, but like a little, tiny, insignificant seed.  In our bigger is better world, seeds don’t seem powerful at all!  Why does God choose to work in this crazy mystery, sending his Son to die and rise in some remote, Podunk corner of the world?  God has chosen to enter into creation with as much fanfare as a seed hitting the ground.  We often think God should fix the world with God’s mighty, omnipotent power, but as the Parable Puzzle comes together it looks like God works in quiet and mystery instead.  Another part of why parables are hard.  

It gets even harder than that though.  This seed, sown willy nilly all over the place does it’s work all on it’s own without needing any help from you or me or anybody!  No matter what soil the seed is sown in, Jesus is active and working!  With me, without me... doesn't matter!  The soil doesn’t do the work.  The seed does the work!  The seed just does it’s “seedy” thing.  It sprouts on it’s own, it grows on it’s own, it feeds the birds on it’s own, it composts into rocky ground on it’s own.  The Word of God… The Word made flesh… Jesus, God’s only begotten son… it turns out, according to this parable, is active and working and accomplishing all that God intends, all on it’s own and there is nothing we can do to stop it and I think maybe more frustratingly to us humans who like to pretend we’re in control… there’s nothing we can do to help it either!  Being reminded we’re not in charge is a BIG part of why parables are hard!

As this Parable Puzzle picture takes shape then, it looks like we can’t "find" Jesus or "bring anyone" to Jesus, because God has already sown Jesus into everyone.  We can’t save ourselves or anyone else, because Jesus, the seed, does that work on his own and he’s at work in good soil, rocky soil and even on no soil. About the best we can do is tell people what God, the Sower has done, what the seed is doing and what God plans for all of creation.  We might want to share how good it feels to be loved that much by God and we could show our thanks by taking a cue from the Sower by caring for people of every type of soil who live around us.  But past that, this is the Sower’s show… not ours.  

And that REALLY makes Parables hard.  God’s grace is spread and working in everyone, even in people we’d probably never choose to include.  God works quietly and mysteriously even though we’d probably choose lighting bolts and smiting rocks from outer space.  And God is the one who does the work of salvation.  All of that is why parables are hard.  Parables are hard because they remind us of a truth we need to hear but don’t like to hear… We’re not in control! 

Back in Jesus’ day lots of folks didn’t like the puzzle picture Jesus put together for them.  They didn’t want a God of radical, all inclusive Grace.  They didn’t want a God that included “those people,” whoever “those people” might be.  They didn’t want a God that worked in still, small, voices and mystery.  They didn’t want a God that didn’t leave them in control.  They didn’t want that sort of God back then and truth be told, a lot of people who hear this parable today don’t like it either.  And if even more truth be told, somedays, sinner that I am, I don’t want that God either!  Some days I too want a God that will only love the people I love.  Some days I don’t want to be challenged to love all the people God loves and their mean, hard hearts and rocky heads!  Even more truth be told, parables are STILL REALLY hard!  

But in the end, both on the days I like the way God works and especially on the days I don’t, God remains the Sower, sowing the extravagant, loving, seed of the Word made flesh into EVERY hard heart, rocky noggin and good soil throughout all of creation.  And in each of us, Christ, the seed is at work, turning darkness into light, pain into healing and death into life... in me and in you and in all of creation.  So let us give thanks to the Sower for giving us what we need even if it's not always what we want.  Amen.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Sticky Words

The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, the 11th Chapter

“But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Yo mama’s so ugly, she threw a boomerang and it refused to come back!  Yo mama’s so stupid, she yelled into the mailbox to leave a voicemail!  Yo mama’s so fat the only letters from the alphabet she knows are K.F.C.  Ugly… Stupid… Fat… these are Sticky Words.  

Sticky Words aren’t just Yo Mama jokes, of course.  Words become Sticky when they land on a particularly tender part of who you are and can’t easily be shaken loose.  Sticky words are those words that, once they glom on, demand more of our focus and attention, even as we more and more desperately try to shake them loose.  Sticky Words are those words that people say to us that we know we should just brush off, but like a piece of fly paper, the more we try to brush them off, the more we’re stuck.  First our finger, then our hand, and then our shirt, and our hair and anything else that dares come near.  Sticky words are the words that drive us deep into the dark, unhelpful corners of our minds where we stew and struggle to fight back.  Sticky Words get us to churn and churn and churn away in our minds, until our brains are up to their axles in mud.  Sticky words immobilize us, bog us down and stop us from moving toward the things and people that matter most to us.   

When the religious and political leaders saw John the Baptist out in the wilderness, not living like “normal” people and not eating like “normal” people but still drawing crowds to hear what he had to say, they loaded up their Word Canon and fired a volley of Sticky Words in his direction.  “He has a demon!”  Wow!  Those were Sticky Words!  When Jesus commissioned his disciples and they started working their way through the towns and countryside telling people and showing people that God’s love, grace and compassion was for everyone, the political and religious leaders loaded up their Word Canons and fired off some Sticky Words.  “He’s a glutton!”  Wow!  That one’s maple syrup sticky!  “He’s a drunk!”  Whoa, that’s bubble gum-in-the-hair Sticky!  “He’s friends with Tax Collectors!”  Dang!  That’s cocklebur-in-your-wool-socks sticky!  He’s friends with SINNERS!  Holy Moly!  That’s superglued your hand to your face Sticky!  

Sticky Words go in through our ears and head straight for our reptilian brains, never bothering to check in with our higher, human brains to see if they really deserve our attention.  Our reptilian brains have only two tools in their lizard-brain-box.  Fight or flight.  Run from it or bite it.  What Sticky Words do is to drive us out of our minds and down into a place where we don’t think… we simply react.  It drives us to be much less than the human beings God created us to be.  

When Jesus asks, “To what will I compare this generation?”  He says this generation is acting like a bunch of kids in the market or on the playground.  Both want to play with the other, but all they seem able to do is to fire Sticky Words back and forth at each other.  Each volley is absorbed and stews and then the next volley is bigger and stickier when it gets launched back in the other direction.  

Todd W. rode my bus in elementary school.  He was younger, smaller and slower than me, but that sucker was a Sticky Word Ninja!  He would launch Sticky Words at me from a few seats away on the bus and they would land hard and stick fast!  I’d stew on one Sticky Word and while I was stewing on that one, he’d launch another.  When the bus dropped us off and finally pulled away from our stop, his lizard brain made him RUN and my lizard brain gave him the best reaction it could muster… right in the nose! 

Jesus calls us out of our lizard brains and offers us a way to return to the fully human, abundant lives that God created us to live.  Standing on either side of the marketplace, bus stop, churchyard, Twitter-verse or political aisle hurling Stickier and Stickier Words back and forth at one another is a never-ending, soul-sucking, wearisome, burdensome way of living that in no way leads us toward the abundant life God created us to live! 

Forty years or so after my lizard brain got the best of me at that bus stop, I know now that Todd’s sticky words were launched out of his brokenness and my reaction came right out of mine.  After all, hurt people, hurt people as they say.  But in Christ’s death and resurrection we have been given the power to rise out of that endless cycle of Sticky Words and broken people passing on their pain to others.  When we’ve had enough... when we’re tired of always being stuck in a mire of sticky words and weary of endlessly throwing them back and forth at one another, Jesus shows us there is a more restful, peaceful, less burdensome way to live. 

“Take my yoke upon you” Jesus says.  In other words, allow Jesus to steer your life.  Allow Jesus to steer you toward compassion, understanding, gentleness, humility and peace.  That way no matter what gets thrown at you so you can choose your words, like Jesus chose his words… words of welcome, words of inclusion, words of healing, forgiveness and new life.  When you’re finally weary of retaliation, retribution and revenge; when the stickiness, weariness and burden of always needing to hit back ten times harder has finally weighed you down so you just can’t do it anymore, Jesus says, take MY yoke upon you… the yoke of repentance, redemption and reconciliation.  That yoke, Jesus promises, shines life giving light into the deepest darkness, calms the roughest storms of our most horrible demons and even takes death and transforms it into new and everlasting life.

We will never be able to stop Sticky Words from coming and because those Sticky Words automatically trigger our lizard brains, we’ll never be able to simply brush them off, so as St. Paul observed we will always find ourselves NOT doing what we want and instead we’ll find ourselves doing the things we hate!  But in Christ’s life, death and resurrection, we’ve been given the power to absorb those Sticky words, and learning from Jesus, we’ll be able to reply with words of gentleness and humility… words that shine light into darkness, words that heal and forgive and words that open never-before-seen possibilities.  “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  Amen.    

Thursday, June 29, 2017


The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, the 10th Chapter
“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

Rob and Sally were members of my first congregation in Wisconsin.  They lived in Rob's old family cabin on Lake Poygen which they had converted into a year-round home.  Soon after we arrived, Rob invited the new pastor to come over for a visit.  He told me that he would need a lot of counseling and in order to insure the privacy his counseling would require, we would go out in their boat onto the lake.  Also, so we wouldn’t raise any suspicions about what we were doing out in the middle of the lake, we would need to bring fishing rods with us and fish, so that it LOOKED like our primary purpose was fishing when in reality it was pastoral counseling.  

Because he was CLEARLY in need of pastoral counseling I immediately agreed.  The day for “counseling” arrived and I got to their house early in the morning.  Sally greeted me at the door and took me through the house and as she showed me out into the backyard and down to the boathouse, she handed me a small cooler packed with water, sodas and snacks.  

Rob greeted me in the boathouse and we got the boat into the water, loaded in the cooler and off we went out onto the lake for “counseling.”  Rob had grown up on this lake.  He and his brother had fished it as kids and sold their catch to a local restaurant for their famous Wisconsin, Friday night fish fry so we always caught fish.  We talked too.  I learned way more from him than he learned from me.  About 11:30 we headed back to the boathouse and pulled out the catch of fish.  Rob cleaned all the fish.  I was not allowed to help.  I was his guest.  

We then went back to the house and opened the door to the overwhelming smell of fresh baked bread.  And there in the kitchen was “just a little lunch” as Sally called it.  Fresh bread, meats and cheeses, pickles and condiments all laid out with the deepest of care.  Rob showed me his favorite way to eat this lunch… a slice of Sally’s homemade bread with meat and cheese and some garlic sprinkled on top and then toasted in the toaster oven.  It was perfect.  

The three of us chatted over lunch and when it was done I thanked them both and Sally put into my hands a bag with the rest of the fresh baked bread and Rob handed me a cooler with all the cleaned filets packed in baggies on ice and they both told me they would need additional counseling… probably in next couple of weeks.  

Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me.  Whoever welcomes me, welcomes the One who sent me.  Rob and Sally welcomed me.  By welcoming me, they welcomed Christ and by welcoming Christ they welcomed God.  That wasn't true just because I was a pastor.  It's true for every human being and it was very obvious that this wasn’t the way Rob and Sally treated a few select people now and then, this was how they lived… day in and day out… this is how they welcomed EVERYONE!  This is the way they treated all of “the little ones” this lesson talks about.  This is how they cared for the “the least of these” as Jesus refers to all of humanity later in Matthew’s Gospel.   

The way we show welcome to “the little ones” and “the least of these” is how we show welcome to God!  How welcome is God in our churches, in our homes and in our hearts?  None of us needs to convince anyone with our words, how we welcome God.  What we DO in welcoming the "little ones" and "the least of these" SHOWS how welcoming we are to God.  And it’s clear that “the little ones” and “the least of these” are not some sub-set of humanity, "the little ones" are ALL of humanity and nothing less.  

So how do YOU show welcome?  How do you welcome the visitor to the church, the new neighbor to your neighborhood, the new pastor or priest to your church? How do you welcome the stranger and all the rest of God’s little ones?  The first step is to NOTICE them.  You first have to SEE them.  Not for what you might get out of them, how you might use them or how you might fear them, but for who they are at their core.  No matter where they are from, what they believe or what language they speak, they are nothing less than a child of God!  This lesson challenges us to REALLY see them, not just because it's the right thing to do, but because when we SEE them and welcome them, we do nothing less than see and welcome God.

This church is so much better at noticing, seeing and making a place for all people than many congregations out there.  I've heard some of you say, "well, all churches do that."  They should... but no, they don't.  But the challenge this Gospel lesson gives to all of us… whether we’re calling a new pastor/priest, distributing clothes and toiletries or living out our daily lives... our challenge is to not take a break from providing a lavish welcome to all "the little ones"... a lavish welcome worthy of God. 

Imagine what the world would become if we all began to really live into Jesus' call to provide an extravagant welcome.  Imagine how the world would be transformed if we practiced this not just for clergy searches, or on Sunday mornings at church, but in each and every moment of our lives with every single person we met.  What would the world be like if we lived like we truly believed that verse in Hebrews, that we should not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it?  

Imagine how the church would be different.  Imagine how your neighborhood would be different.  Imagine how the city, state, country and world would be different if we welcomed each person as if we were welcoming one of God’s angels. Imagine how the world would be different if we acted like we were welcoming God!  

You may have noticed, that's not the way the world currently works.  So someone needs to lead the way!  So, lead the way!  Go into the world and provide an extravagant welcome to one new person this week.  Greet that new person in the same way you would greet God’s angels… Greet that new person like you would greet one of Jesus’ disciples.  Greet that new person like you would greet Jesus.  Greet that new person as if they were the Divine, standing in your presence, because if we take seriously what Jesus says here, THAT is exactly what you will be doing.  Amen. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Like a Feather Poking Through

The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, the 9th & 10th Chapters

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

And lo, it cameth to pass that Jesus sat down with twelve new rector/pastor types and shared with them their letters of agreement.  Jesus read, “You will be expected to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers and cast out demons, “Wow!” said the disciples, “That seems like a really ambitious list.  What’s the compensation package look like?”

Jesus said, “I’m glad you asked!  There will be no gold, silver or copper BUT you won’t have a bag or a belt to put any money in so that won’t be a problem.”  “But if we don’t have a belt or bag, what will we match with our sandals?” asked the twelve.  The twelve had excellent fashion sense!  “Oh, don’t worry about that,” said Jesus, “You won’t have sandals either.  Oh, and one last thing.  Before you get done you’ll be hated by everyone because of my name.” “That seems like a “great opportunity.” Said the disciples, “Is there any Good News?”  “Actually,” Jesus replied, “There IS really Good News… THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN HAS COME NEAR!”    

What sort of an ODD Rector/Pastor type person would accept a call like that?  Impossible expectations, promises of rejection, hatred and persecution.  Wolves in sheep’s clothing.  Sheep in wolves' clothing… lions and tigers and bears, OH MY!  And not even a stick to beat back wild beasts or unruly parishioners!  Now, I don’t think THIS call HERE is quite like THAT call there.  I looked, and “Raising the dead” was NOT on my Letter of Agreement!  But even though THIS call now, isn’t exactly like THAT call, then, following God’s call is still HARD!  And not just for Rector/Pastor types either.  For all of us who do God’s work in our world today… it’s HARD!  Christ Trinity might not need the EXACT sort of ODD people that Jesus called together in this lesson, but the work that you and I are called to do in our world at this time in our history, could still benefit from at least a little bit of… well, ODDNESS.

Apparently your search committee believes I might have the sort of “ODDNESS” needed for this place and time.  But here’s the thing, if your search committee is anything like the rest of you, YOU just might have that right sort of “ODDNESS” as well!  Which makes be smile, because one of the most beautiful things in life is finding other people with whom you can un-reservedly share your particular sort of “oddness”.  

And it is a bit of ODDNESS, isn’t it, that we all share?  It’s ODDNESS that we can watch the news, see the violence, hear the hate and see people being mean, seemingly just for meanness sake, and yet STILL believe that there’s actually enough… enough food to feed one more mouth, enough space for one more chair at the table, enough compassion to lift one more soul, enough love to include one more heart, enough light to dispel any darkness and enough life to even raise the dead!  

It’s ODDNESS!  To insist God has given us enough, when mountains of pictures and sound bites and ick pour in on us day after day, always insisting there will NEVER be enough, there CAN never be enough… so you better grab all you can before someone who’s different gets it first!  It’s oddness!  Oddness to believe what we believe!  So, how is it then, that we’re ever going to be able to maintain our beautiful, holy, mutual, oddness in the face of a world that keeps insisting on horribleness?  I’m glad you asked!  I believe we’re able to do it… we’re able to maintain that beautiful, holy, ODDNESS of love, compassion, grace and generosity because… THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN HAS COME NEAR! 

Now, I’ll be honest with you, I have nothing to do with it.  I don’t have a dozen boxes labeled “Kingdom of Heaven” up in Maine, and it’s not going to “come near” by moving us next door!  The truth is, the Kingdom of Heaven has ALREADY come near here!   The Kingdom of Heaven is God’s gift… God’s doing… not mine.  I’m just here to tell you that even when it doesn’t feel like it, the Kingdom of Heaven HAS INDEED come near and it’s pokin’ in.  Not always easy to see, but pokin’ in for sure!

It’s kinda like this couch that used to be at my grandparent’s place in Upper Michigan.  Every summer I’d sit on that couch and there would be this one little spot… one little, tiny, pokey spot.  If you got up and looked, you’d never see it, but it poked, so you knew it was there.  One summer I felt that little nub under my leg and instead of getting up to look, I ran my finger along the couch until I found it!  Then I started to pick at it and work at it and wiggle it until out from the weavings of that 1960’s plaid, gold and brown couch I pulled… a feather.  

I can’t bring the Kingdom of Heaven near.  It’s near already!  What I CAN do… what I hope to do… is to help you look around and see if together, we can feel the tiny, hidden, unexpected spots here in Southern Berkshire county where the Kingdom of Heaven might just be poking through in new spots and in new ways, like a feather poking through grandma’s couch.  It’s going to take all of us looking and feeling our way together, because the Kingdom of Heaven is poking through these days in ways it never seemed to poke through before.

But, I think maybe, with a lot of grace, patience… some heavy leaning on the Holy Spirit and a REALLY good sense of humor, we might just be able to join together our holy, hope-filled ODDNESS that we’ve all been given in our Baptisms; feel where those tiny places of God’s love, hope, compassion and care are poking into world and together….  pick at ‘em, work ‘em, wiggle ‘em and move ‘em for a while, until out from the weavings of this very different and all-too-often difficult world, we’ll pull another little piece of God’s love and grace from where the Kingdom of Heaven is poking through, and share it with the world.

I told your search committee when I was here to interview, and I’ll tell you all now, there’s no place I can PULL you as a congregation that I’ve been to before.  You’re ready to walk a brand new road that NOBODY’s walked before!  That’s super exciting!  And a little bit scary too.  So, the best I can offer, is to walk with you… to try and find our way together.  That’ll mean playing a bit of “mad scientist” along the way.  Some experiments will work like a miracle and others… Well, we’ll try not to create a full-on monster, but sometimes things won’t go as planned.  But every Sunday, after we’ve all had a week of ups and downs… hopefully a week of more miracles than monsters, I’ll invite you THERE to THAT Table and together we’ll eat the Bread of Heaven and share the cup of salvation.  There, in that bread and cup we’ll all be reminded, that no matter what feathers we’ve found or monsters we’ve made that week… the Kingdom of Heaven really HAS come near, and because of that, we’ve been given all we need to put one foot in front of the other, taking one step and then another, always toward the Kingdom of Heaven.  After all, it’s not that far off you know.  The Kingdom of Heaven is actually quite near!  Amen.  

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Let's Go Sailing!

Acts 2:1-21

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

When we first moved to New Mexico we were told that Spring was the time of year that Arizona tried to get to Texas by way of New Mexico.  The Spring winds gathered dust and sand from Arizona and blew it through New Mexico and into Texas!  It wasn’t just dusty.  The winds rearranged things too.   A woman got stuck in her house when the wind rearranged the tumbleweeds so they blocked her front door.  Wind rearranges things.

When I grew up in Florida we rode out hurricane Eloise.  After that violent wind, everything was rearranged.  The trees were so rearranged in the streets that we couldn’t drive.  Electric lines were rearranged so there was no power or water.  Here in Maine, violent winds rearrange snow so your lawn is bare but right where your cars are parked there’s a drift as big as a whale!  

Violent winds blow.  They rearrange things.  It changes things. The violent wind of the Holy Spirit blows and rearranges and changes things too.  On that first Pentecost it blew the disciples right out of hiding.  That violent wind rearranged their fears.  It blew apart all the walls keeping them from doing what God had called them to do.  That Holy Wind changed them and rearranged them so much the people who saw them didn't know what to think.  

Things change when the Holy Spirit blows and the Holy Spirit is always blowing.  That Violent Wind isn’t just blowing on Pentecost and it doesn’t just blow when we wear red in church.  It’s always blowing… always rearranging… always changing.  We are not the Holy Spirit’s master by any stretch!  Our only say, when it comes to the blowing of the Holy Spirit, is whether we’ll go with it or fight against it!  Jim Croche had a song back in the early 70’s, and in addition to his advice to not tug on Superman’s cape, pull the mask off the Lone Ranger or mess around with Jim, he also advised NOT to spit into the wind!  The Spirit is blowing, rearranging and changing things.  We have no say in that.  We only choose to hoist a sail or ignore Jim Croche’s advice!    

Both choices have problems.  Hoisting the sails and going where the Spirit blows is frightening!  This is no summer breeze.  It’s a violent wind!  There’s no telling where we’ll end up!  For those of us who like things predictable and steady, that’s not our favorite kind of sailing!  The other option isn’t pretty either.  You can stand up to the wind, walk against it, get your face exfoliated with the blowing sand or you can go against the song’s recommendation and end up with an even bigger mess.

Whether we're comfortable with it or not, the Holy Spirit just keeps blowing!  Blowing, rearranging, and changing.  We can’t ever quite grasp it... like trying to grab a fistful of wind.  But every now and then when we’re paying attention, even though we can’t see it, we can see what it’s doing.  What got you out of bed, into the shower and here this morning?  The Spirit was blowing.  What had you helping at Everyday Basics, Addie’s Attic, Quilting or baking for coffee hour?  The Spirit was blowing!  You gave your time, money, talents and gifts for another person.  That was the Spirit, rearranging your life… blowing you toward the “other” and out of your locked up, mirror admiring, closed off upper room self.

We often try to pretend the Spirit isn’t blowing… that it isn’t uncomfortably rearranging and changing our lives, our families or our church.  But it is!  We try to shut the window on the Spirit.  Then, like a violent wind, it blows the window wide open and shows us again, that the wind dried up the waters after the flood... that the wind drove back the water to create a path out of Egypt... that the wind blows and dry bones get new life... that the wind blows and whistles through an empty tomb.  

Outside that upper room... out in the wind... it was scary for the disciples.  Inside was comfortable, safe and known.  Inside, looking at our past as two churches called St. Mark’s and Prince of Peace we remember it as safe and known and predictable.  Outside, over the last few years the wind has blown us together and now we’re heading outside into the wind again, searching for a new name like it's written on a slip of paper, blown around on a violent wind... all of us trying to grab it as it blows by.

But it’s time.  Time to get blown from our comfortable upper room again and step out into the wind.  It’s time for the Holy Spirit to rearrange us and change us again for the work that God is calling us into next.  It’s time to trim our sails and ride God’s Holy Wind toward our new name… a new name that will go with us into the new work God is calling us to do.  It's not a gentle wind for some of you, I know.  For everyone, emotions and feelings are swirling around like a piece of tin roof in a hurricane.  “This is good!”  “This is bad!”  “This is scary!”  “No, it’s exciting!”  “I’m not ready!”  “I’m BEYOND ready!”  All blowing like a whirlwind.  I know.  

But God is calling us to hoist our sail anyway, catch God’s unpredictable, violent wind and trust that God's Holy Wind will blow us again toward abundant life.  Remember, the Spirit's always blown formless voids into new creations; captives to freedom, exiles back home and death into life.  That Holy violent Wind has always blown God’s people toward light and life.  God’s Holy Wind is blowing us there too.  So, let’s go sailing!  Amen.  

Friday, May 26, 2017

Right Tool! More Power!

The Holy Gospel According to St. Luke, the 24th Chapter

Then Jesus said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

We’ve all worked with our hands at some point or another.  In our work life, home life and church life.  Quilting, painting, gardening, shoveling, cooking, baking, counting, word processing, doing the dishes and all sorts of other things.  But no matter what you do, it always goes better when you use the CORRECT tool for the job.  You don’t use a straight screwdriver on a Phillip’s head.  You don’t use a meat cleaver to cut bread and don’t use mom’s fabric scissors to cut paper!  

No matter what the work, use the right tool for the job and (if you all remember Tim the Toolman Taylor) the right tool is always better with… MORE POWER!  Uh, uh, uh!  Even though Jesus lived and was into woodworking before power tools, he understood that.  Jesus knew that it’s one thing to be given a job; but what we really need with the job, are the right tools to get it done!

We’ve got a job to do and it’s time to get to work.  “You WILL BE my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”  YOU will be!  He’s looking at you, ya know?  Does that make you squirm a bit in your seats?   It makes me squirm in my seat and I’m not even sitting down!  If you’re squirming, though, you’re in good company.  

The disciples were squirming too when they heard that from Jesus right before he rose on up into heaven.  I imagine those disciples just stood there with their mouths hanging open and I think it was only PARTLY because they saw the Ascension!  I bet the other thing that had them standing there with their chins on the ground was the thing that Jesus had just asked them to do!  “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.” 

They were so gob-smacked, they needed a couple of angels to come and pick their jaws up off the ground, tell them to stop catching flies with those open mouths and get on with the job!  Jesus left in a surprising way and Jesus would return in a surprising way at a surprising time.  Worrying about that, however, wasn’t part of their job.  

The job the disciples got and the job we have, is to tell the story of Jesus, and Jesus left a specific action plan for this job.  Start in Jerusalem.  In other words, start right where you are; right where you live; with the people you know best.  Start right here!  In this congregation!  Tell each other the Jesus story and how it makes a difference in our lives.  What would happen if at coffee hour each week, we shared with one another where we saw Jesus at work in our lives in the past week?  From there we're to spread the story just a little wider… in our homes, to our families, to our friends over coffee and to your neighbor out for a walk.  What would happen if we told the Jesus story to our family and friends?  What if we did that FIRST without any words?  What if we SHOWED our next door neighbor the Jesus story by how we took care of them… valued them… and thanked them for just being our neighbor? 

From there, we’re supposed to head out to Judea.  Judea was where the fringe folks lived.  Jesus is calling us to the fringes too… to the homeless and hungry, the imprisoned and impoverished, to the cast outs and left outs.  What would it look like to sit with someone and listen to their story when most of the world doesn’t even see them?  

From the fringe in Judea, out further to Samaria.  Samaria was where the people lived who were close in geography but farther away in culture, tradition, religion, language and story.  Neighbors by address, but still strangers.  Jesus calls us next to show them the Jesus story by lifting them up, building their dignity, treating them with compassion and justice and inviting THEM to become US.

I don’t know about you, but this feels like a GIGANTIC job!  If there was ever a job that needed MORE POWER it’s this one!  Telling the Jesus story.  Living the Jesus story.  Doing what Jesus did by caring for the least, lost and last.  WOW that’s HUGE!!!  If we’re going to do all that, we’re REALLY gonna need MORE POWER!

Jesus told the disciples what he needed them to do and THEN gave them the tools to get the job done.  He opened up their minds to the scriptures THEN sent them the Holy Spirit.  They got the tools, then on Pentecost they got the power and the disciples were set and ready to go… and so are you!  In our Baptisms we’ve each been given a special set of tools and they too have been plugged into the greatest power source in all of creation!  Equipped with the right tools and charged with the power of the Holy Spirit, we too are disciples ready to get to work! 

Now, it’s important to keep in mind…we all have a unique set of tools.  Some have hammers, others a saw.  You might have a socket wrench while someone else has a 300 horse power V8 screw driver!  Together we have all sorts of different tools and that’s why Jesus calls us to work together, each of working on our unique piece of the same big job and all plugged into the power of the Holy Spirit… a power source that will NEVER run out!  What’s in the tool box God has given you?  They’re all plugged in and powered up!  So don’t just stand there with your mouth hanging open, catchin’ flies like some bunch of disciples on a hill!  Get to work!   Amen

Friday, May 19, 2017

Special Delivery

The Holy Gospel According to St. John, the 14th Chapter

”If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

”I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

I went to a Lutheran seminary in South Carolina.  Most of us, as you might expect, were Lutherans… but not everyone.  There were some Methodists, some AME folks and even some Baptists.  Not Southern Baptists… mostly African American Baptists like Clyde.  Clyde was 6’ 4” and probably 350 pounds or so and he was mostly bald.  He was older than most of us and he had been the pastor of a nearby, rural, Baptist church for years but was working on his seminary degree, one course at a time.  

Clyde was in my very first preaching class.  Our preaching professor, Dr. Ridenhour gave us some VERY clear expectations… every sermon BETTER have a “Word from the Lord” in it.  That meant it needed to have Gospel in it… Good News… It needed to remind folks of the GIFT of God’s love and grace, given freely to us in Christ’s life, death and resurrection.  It needed to remind folks of what God has done, is doing and promises yet to do and it BETTER do all that in language the folks could understand and not with any highfalutin, seminary words, either!  After all, Dr. Ridenhour was known to stand up during a student’s sermon and hike up his pant legs if it was getting “too deep” in there and it was rumored that one time he had even climbed up on his desk and hiked up his pant legs when he thought it had gotten REALLY deep! 

So, for the first few weeks, Dr. Ridenhour taught us some things about preaching, gave us techniques we could use.  He warned us about some common pit falls and maybe even scared us just a little bit and then, for the rest of the semester, we preached.  After each sermon, those who listened shared their thoughts with the preacher.  Two sermons per class… a bunch of white, German and Scandinavian descendant Lutherans… and Clyde.  

The first time it was Clyde’s turn to preach, he tried to preach like the rest of us did… like a white Lutheran.  It was painful to watch.  But more than that, it was heartbreaking.  Heartbreaking because clearly he had figured that he would have to preach “our way” to make it though this class and clearly he had learned in his life to expect, that in a room full of white folks, he would be expected to do it “our way.”  We apologized for our part in continuing to create a world that led him to assume that in the first place and then we asked him to PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE be who God is calling YOU to be the next time you preach.  

As we all talked about Clyde’s sermon with him after he was finished, we were all taught the lesson Jesus was trying to teach the disciples in the Gospel for today.  Jesus was reminding the disciples that the Gospel… the Good News… God’s care for them… God’s love for them… God being present with them… would not change… BUT… There’s always a BUT… BUT the WAY that care, that love and that presence would be DELIVERED to them would be different.  

For the last three years, God’s care, God’s love and God’s presence had been delivered to the disciples by way of Jesus… Immanuel… God with them in flesh and bone.  Soon though, God’s care, God’s love and God’s presence would be given to them by another, different, Advocate… by the Holy Spirit.  The delivery method would look and sound and work DRAMATICALLY differently, but WHAT was being delivered would not change.  

The next time it was Clyde’s turn to preach in class, he felt free to be the preacher God had called him to be.  He had his floppy Bible and his handkerchief to wipe the perspiration from his balding head and he gave us a Word from the Lord!  He preached it!  The core was there.  He proclaimed the Gospel.  It had Good News.  It reminded us of the gift of God’s love and grace, given freely to us in Christ’s life, death and resurrection.  It reminded us of what God has done, is doing and promises yet to do and it did it without any highfalutin, seminary words, either!  Now, I’m POSITIVE that if it hadn’t had all that at it's core, Dr. Ridenhour would have had no hesitation to climb up on his desk and hike up his pant legs as he would have for any of the rest of us!  But that wasn’t necessary that day!  The Good News was delivered and Jesus was revealed in his words and we all got “A Word from the Lord.”  The CORE was the same.  The DELIVERY was different. 

This wasn’t just a lesson for the disciples to learn as Jesus talked to them about his death in the upper room and it wasn’t just a lesson for a seminary class full of a bunch of white Lutherans and our Baptist brother Clyde.  This is a lesson for all of us, in every place and in every time.  Things change.  The way we do ministry, the way the church looks, the style of delivery, the faces in the congregation, the gifts of the pastor, the talents of the priest, the places in the community we are called to go… ALL of it HAS changed, is changing and WILL continue to change… over and over and over again.  HOW we love God will look different.  But loving God won’t stop.  How we love our neighbor will look different.  But loving our neighbor won’t stop.  

Do you see?  God loves us LIKE Jesus loved the woman at the well.  God doesn’t ONLY love women at wells.  God opens our eyes LIKE Jesus did for the man born blind.  God doesn’t ONLY open the eyes of men born blind.  God turns death into life LIKE God raised Jesus from the dead.  But God doesn’t ONLY give Jesus new life… God gives us ALL new life as well… “Because I live”, said Jesus, “you will live also.”

HOW the love, compassion, presence and new life is delivered into each of our lives, in each of the places we live and over the years of our lives will continue to adapt and change all the time.  WHAT gets delivered… The Gospel… the Good News of God’s unconditional love, compassion, presence and the new life we have been given in Christ… THAT will never change.  And THAT, my friends, is a Word from the Lord!  Amen.