Friday, July 10, 2015

Cheetahs Never Win!

The Holy Gospel According to St. Mark, the 6th Chapter
King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”
For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

I have to warn ya... I’m fixin’ ta cheat!  You see, last week’s Gospel lesson, was a lesson in two parts.  The first part talked about being stuck at home, the second part about hitting the road.  The first part, a lack of faith, the second part about radical trust.  The first part, powerless, the second part was full of incredible acts of power.  
Well, that same up and down, back and forth story telling style that Mark used in last week’s Gospel... comparing unfaith and trust, lows and highs... continues this week.  EXCEPT... LAST week the people who created the lectionary put in BOTH the lows AND the highs in the lesson, while THIS week all they leave us with is this horrible low.  I guess they thought this story was long enough and so we’re all just supposed to wait for NEXT week to get the high that answers this horrible, terrible low.  But I’m going on vacation and I’m not preaching next week and frankly, I don’t want to leave town preaching a bummer!  So, I’m cheating!  I’m pulling in next week’s story that is the “HIGH” that Mark uses to balance out this week’s horrible, terrible, lectionary “LOW”!!! 
Actually, I don’t think it’s cheating too badly, because Mark, I think, put today’s John the Baptist flashback here so that we would read these stories together... back to back.  First we read the story of Herod’s birthday feast... a feast inside the palace, a feast for the rich and powerful elites of Galilee, a feast very intentionally limited to people on “the inside”... a feast that surely began with an abundance of the very finest food and drink the world could provide and ended with empty bottles and crumbs.  This feast kept people in their places.  The traditional power structure inside and outside of the palace remained clear.  And this feast ends, of course, in a horrible death manipulated from a back room by Herod’s wife, (who was really Herod’s brother’s wife) a murder achieved by manipulating a king, by manipulating a child... a life taken out of fear in order to save face, keep things quiet and maintain appearances... all to keep the illusion of power and control from falling apart.  
The other feast, you’ll hear about next week, has come to be known as the Feeding of the Five Thousand.  It’s everything that Herod’s feast was not.  It was outside... on the road.  Like I said last week, God seems to do the most Divine things on the road!  This feast started off, not with the rich and powerful but with people who, to Jesus, seemed lost, like sheep without a shepherd.  This feast started out, in what the disciples were convinced was insurmountable scarcity, with just five loaves and two, almost forgotten, fish but ended, not with people still hungry and a couple empty bottles laying in the grass, but in a miraculous ABUNDANCE!  EVERYONE’S bellies were FULL... PLUS... there were TWELVE BASKETS overflowing with leftovers!  For this feast ALL were welcome, and there, ALL MEANT ALL.  There was no bouncer at the door checking invitations.  No one checking memberships or pedigrees.  It’s not that Jesus opened the doors for the people to come in... for Jesus’s feast there just weren’t ever any doors!  And Jesus’s feast ended, not in death... not in a life taken.  Jesus’s feast ended in LIFE GIVEN... and not just an, eek out a pitiful existence sort of life, but in an extravagantly, liberally, generously, lavishly, overflowingly ABUNDANT LIFE for all, All, ALL of creation!  
So, I cheated.  Sue me!  But I’m going on vacation, and I just couldn’t bring myself to preach only death today, when I knew good and well that less than a page turn away, ABUNDANT LIFE was waiting to bust out!  You see, ABUNDANT LIFE is how all God’s stories end.  ALL OF THEM.  ALWAYS!
One last story and I’ll be done.  Three years ago, we moved our family to Maine from Colorado.  I was finished in the Church.  I came here to start new... to run a restaurant.  You see, I was a trouble maker.  Nothing illegal, unethical or immoral mind you, but still, they weren’t wrong.  I made trouble and I wasn’t quiet.  I advocated for people and policies in my church, in my denomination and in our world that were not, “safe” and I did that... shall we say, without the subtlety, tact and reserve some would have wished me to have.  I wrote for the newspaper.  I confronted bullies.  I was asked to look elsewhere for a call.  My head wasn’t literally on a platter, but there were times when I thought that might actually feel better than how I felt.  
I tell you THAT story, not to make you feel bad for me, but so that I can tell you from VERY personal and VERY painful experience that there was for me and my family, LIFE after the worst two years of our lives!  I want MY story, and today’s stories, and the Good Friday and Easter story to remind you... to remind me... because God knows I need constant reminding...  that in God, somehow, in a way we will never be able to figure out or explain, with stuff as seemingly inadequate as five stale loaves of bread and two almost forgotten, sun baked fish... SOMEHOW God turns FEAR into COURAGE, HATE into LOVE and DEATH into LIFE!  Now, that doesn’t mean the painful part doesn’t hurt... that part hurts like HELL and it all too often feels like God has forgotten you and that the pain, darkness and hopelessness will never end.  
BUT, somehow, in some miraculous, unexpected inconceivable way, God uses some insignificant, almost stale, nearly spoiled something and turns fear into courage, hate into love and death into life.  THAT’S not just my story, or just the story of those 5000, or the story of the Resurrection... that’s your story too.  THAT, my dear, passionate, frightened, amazingly courageous friends... is your story too!  Your story too, even though it is horrible, painful, terrifying and seemingly impossible to overcome WILL BE, WILL BE, WILL DIVINELY be extravagantly, liberally, generously, lavishly, overflowingly transformed into LIFE... into ABUNDANT LIFE!  Amen.  

Friday, July 3, 2015

Hit the Road Jack!

The Holy Gospel According to St. Mark, the 6th Chapter
Jesus left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

This is a Gospel story in two parts.  The first part is about ministry on the inside.  The second part is about ministry on the road.  The first part is about unbelief.  The second part is about trust.  In the first part, only a few are healed.  In the second part, the power of God flows out along the way, casting out demons and healing many.
A number of years ago, Kelly’s mom, Emily was very really sick.  When Kelly and I arrived, she had been transferred to the University hospital and one of her medications was messing with her head.  She was convinced she’d had a C-Section the day before and REALLY wanted to show ME the scar!  Every time I got close to her bed she’d hike up her hospital gown over her head and try to show me!  I loved my mother in law a ton, but I REALLY didn’t want to see her bid-nez!  
Later, her mind began to clear, but as the test results came in, it was clear that Emily was nearing the end of her life.  I knew I could be helpful to the family... OK, I THOUGHT I could be helpful to the family.  What I failed to understand is that as a pastor married to the youngest sibling, I had no honor in HER hometown!  THERE in THAT place I was just the baby by marriage and therefore I knew SQUAT!
Jesus, in his own home town, also knew SQUAT!  It didn’t matter that the week before he had miraculously calmed the whole Sea of Galilee, cured a woman from twelve years of bleeding and, oh yeah, I nearly forgot... RAISED A GIRL FROM THE DEAD!  None of that mattered because they KNEW Jesus!  They were certain that this was the snot nosed kid who used to run around town with that kid Biff.  This was Jesus, you know... that kid from “AWAY” in a manger... And no, being out of town for the census didn’t matter... he was still from AWAY!
So there, on the inside... there in his hometown, Jesus couldn’t do much.  They were so darn sure God would never act through that snot nosed kid Jesus... that CARPENTER pretending now to be a rabbi... or more snooty yet... a PROPHET, that they missed what God was DOING among them... They missed that God WAS among them!  So, if they could miss THAT, what might WE be missing?  WHO might we be missing?  How might we be restricting Jesus to just a few minor miracles, because we don’t want to even consider that God might be working right under our noses in a different way than we’ve been expecting?  
That’s how things were for Jesus in his own, home town of Nazareth.  If God fit into the box they had grown used to, it was alright.  But if it didn’t fit... well, it might as well keep movin’!  In Luke’s version of this story you know, the people even tried to throw Jesus off a cliff for suggesting that God might be working in a new way!  I’d like to say that no one is thrown off a cliff anymore for suggesting that God is doing something new and different these days... I’d LIKE to say that... but... well
Now, Jesus couldn’t get much done in Nazareth.  There in his hometown he was having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.  He could miraculously heal ONLY a few people.  I wish on my terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days I could miraculously heal ONLY a few people, but then I’m not the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, so I suppose that should be expected!  
BUT on the road, well... THAT was a very different story.  On the road, the disciples were sent out in pairs, they traveled light, without the resources they needed to make it all the way to where they might be going.  They weren’t told where they were going either or how long it would take, but in spite of all of those things, they were able to do amazing things!  Many people were healed, it says.  Not just a few, but LOTS of demons were cast out.  All of the amazing stuff, happened ON THE ROAD.  
“On the Road” is one of God’s M.O.’s.  God does some of God’s most Divine work “On the Road” it seems.  God told Abram to hit the road.  Not where to go or how long it would take, but just to GO and he was blessed to be a blessing to the world!   Moses was told to hit the road and go to “the Promised Land” without a map, without food or water... just a quick meal of lamb and flat bread and hit the road!  The prophets Elijah and Elisha were another two called to hit the road and now, in this lesson, we see the disciples called to "Hit the road, Jack."  
We too have been called by God to "Hit the road, Jack."  The road is where God’s most Divine work seems to happen, but what does this road look like for us?  Does it look like Kennebeck valley Lutheran/Episcopal partnerships?  Is it a road to a spiritual depth many of us yearn for but have yet to travel?  Is the road something else completely or is it a combination of things?  Well, no matter what the road looks like, traveling any road means leaving home... leaving what is comfortable, easy and familiar.  And with God calling us to the road it will likely involve setting out without a final destination clearly in sight.  We should certainly not try to travel alone, because, according to this lesson, it also appears that there will be some... how do we say this... less than welcoming homes and people along the way.  But apparently, stopping to try to convince them or fight with them isn’t the way.  Just because we get invited to a fight, doesn't mean we have to accept the invitation.  Not getting stuck, not holding onto old hurts or resentments, shaking off the dust and moving on down the road with a trust in God’s care for us seems to be the Way, the Truth and the Life.
God has ALWAYS been doing a new thing.  Creation was a new thing.  Abraham’s covenant was a new thing.  The Law and the Promised Land were new things and Jesus, the snot nosed kid turned carpenter turned rabbi turned Messiah was a new thing too.  God is calling us to be a part of God’s next new thing.  God is calling us to hit the road.  God is calling us to bring a Divine wholeness to people who have been broken by the world.  God is calling us to bring a Divine light to each other when the darkness seems too deep and the demons seem too strong.  We’ve been called to be on the road.  On the road without enough bread in our bag and without enough money in our belts.  We’ve been called to "Hit the road, Jack" by putting one foot in front of the other to God knows where, trusting only that God KNOWS where.  Amen.  

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Zanforb Incident

Galatians 3:28
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
1 Corinthians 12: 12 & 27
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ... Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.
(This is a sermon for the campers at Camp Bishopswood in Hope, Maine.  It's a wonderful Episcopal Church camp and I am honored to have been asked to lead the end of week Eucharist this week! The theme of the week is privilege.)

So, I heard you all have been talking about privilege this week so I know you’ve been discussing the Zanforb Incident.... Wait, you HAVEN’T been talking about the Zanforb Incident... you know, the planet Zanforb?  None of this sounds familiar?  How could you have been talking about privilege and not talk about Zanforb?  You’ve talked about Zanforb in school though, right?  NO!  

Oh, man!  Well, if you haven’t ever heard of Zanforb before I guess I need to back up a bunch from what I was going to talk about tonight and go back to basics... Are you SURE you’ve never heard of Zanforb?  You’re not just messing with me, are you?  This isn’t some camp prank is it?  Alright then...

Zanforb is a planet in our galaxy.  Back about six million years ago the ancestors of the Zanforbians crawled up out of their red ocean and began to evolve over millions of years into the beings they are today.  At the same time on the other side of the planet, the ancestors of the Zanforbos did the same thing.  

Pretty much everything about the Zanforbians and Zanforbos are the same... same two brains, same number of tentacles, same beautiful blue-green shiny scales (I can’t believe you’ve never heard this before!) same gills and fins... all the same.  The one difference is that the Zanforbians have THREE eye stalks and the Zanforbos have two.  So, over time they both groups got smarter and learned to make fire and tools and stuff.  They learned how to milk the BoBo bird and turn it’s purple milk into the cheese they use to build their homes.  (I thought EVERYBODY knew this stuff)  Eventually they built ships and sailed around their planet and met one another.  Believe it or not, everything with that first meeting went great!  The eye stalk thing wasn’t a big deal to them and they all lived together in peace and harmony.  They lived on the same canals together.  They worked and played with one another and they all dealt with the hardships of their world together in the same way.  The main hardship they all faced, of course, was that the BoBo bird cheese they all used to build their houses was HIGHLY flammable!  Their homes were always catching on fire and melting into a puddle of burnt, stinky, purple, cheese... BoBo bird cheese really stinks when it melts.  (I really did think everyone knew this stuff!) 

Then one day a Zanforbian, named Ethyl, invented a fire fighting robot.  No one had been able to do this before, but Ethyl, using the third eye stalk on top of her head, was able to program a robot that flew around her house and put out the fires on the cheese before they were able to spread!  It was a HUGE advance!  Ethyl tried to adapt the robots so they could be programmed with just two eye stalks but couldn’t make it work.  Before this invention, both the Zanforbians and Zanforbos spent about half their non-sleep cycle time, tracking, capturing and milking BoBo birds and then making the cheese and rebuilding their homes.  After Ethyl’s robot came out, the Zanforbians could spend all that time they USED to spend catching, milking, cheese making and building, NOW doing something else.  That meant they always had more Zooblobs (their form of money) and no longer lived in constant worry about their houses catching fire.  In a word, they had privilege.  Over the next couple of hundred sun cycles, the two groups grew apart.  The Zanforbians began to assume that this was just how things were supposed to be.  

But all that changed at a summer camp one evening.  George (a Zanforbian) and Betsy (a Zanforbo), were looking up together at their three yellow moons and they had a revelation.  What if Zanforbians used their third eye stalk to control the fire robots to watch Zanforbian houses AND the houses of their Zanforbo neighbors?  

At first the adults they told thought it was a silly idea.  What if the robot was putting out a cheese fire on a Zanforbo house when a Zanforbian house caught on fire!?  They thought there was NO WAY this could work, but George and Betsy asked a simple question (on Zanforb the kids often asked the best questions).  How often do two or more purple, stinky, cheese houses melt down on the same canal on a single night?  The Zanforbians, you see, were afraid of giving away their privilege and having less security than they had come to enjoy.  

BUT, after some research, it turned out that a double meltdown hardly ever happened... actually there was only one ancient legend of that happening which was known as “The Great Melt-O-Rama” but in the modern world it just didn’t happen.  Well, there were some hold outs, Zanforbians still afraid to share their privilege.  They had a special flag and said some hateful things out of fear, always thinking that by sharing their privilege they would be less special than they were before.  But in spite of the flag and the fear and the hateful words, soon, a few brave Zanforbians started sharing their privilege with their neighbors.  They programmed the fire robots to watch both their houses AND their neighbor’s houses equally!  And it worked!  Soon, the Zanforbos’s houses weren’t melting down all the time and they too had the same extra time, wealth and peace of mind that their neighbors had.  

This is the wonderful lesson of the Zanforb Incident.  They learned that when privilege is shared everyone does better!  Like God’s love, sharing privilege does not leave the share-er with less, but actually makes more for everyone!  The beings from Zanforb learned what the Apostle Paul was trying to teach us in the lessons for tonight and in all the stuff he wrote... that God makes no distinctions... male, female, Greek, Jew, black, white, gay, straight, two eye stalks or three... God intends for us to all be connected... using our gifts with one another so that we might all experience the lives of joy God created all of us to have... It turns out, God created each and every one of us to be vital, beloved and amazing parts of the Body of Christ and we are!   

Oh, there’s one more thing I should probably tell you since you’ve never heard of Zanforb before.  You see, once both the Zanforbians and Zanforbos were working together with that extra time, wealth and security on their tentacles, they were able to discover that faster-than-light space travel was possible.  But they also learned that the only way to control space ships at that speed was to use FIVE eye stalks!  Working together, Zanforbians and Zanforbos could visit other planets in the galaxy... but living and working apart they would just stay stuck forever!  

Oh, one last thing they also learned that working together, they could use their combined eye stalks to control an electronic camouflage device so they could visit other planets and look exactly like the creatures from that world.  It is ALMOST a perfect camouflage.  ALMOST.  If you know what to look for, can always tell if a person you are talking to is ACTUALLY from Zanforb and not from earth because the electronic camouflage device has one, unique, quirky feature... It always makes a camouflaged creature from Zanforb appear in a black shirt with a white collar!   DUN DUN DUNNNN!!!!