Friday, October 30, 2015

Try not! Come Out! There is No Try!

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

When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” 

So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

On THIS mountain!  THIS one… RIGHT HERE… not somewhere else, off in some far off heaven in the sweet by and by.  NO!  Right here on THIS, 209 Eastern Avenue mountain, the Lord of Hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines!  And because nobody believes it right away, the prophet says it AGAIN!  This is YOUR FEAST!  A feast of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear!  THAT is my favorite image of the Kingdom of God and THAT is what we have been given.  It is a gift of abundance, not scarcity… it’s a gift of plenty, more than enough to share, not one so rare we need to keep it to ourselves… it is a gift which is ours in Christ.  It’s a done deal.  It’s ours… a gift for the guilty, not a reward for the righteous.   

But sometimes, even though that abundant, rich and plentiful gift of light and life is ours, given to us like a present wrapped and placed right there in front of our eyes… sometimes it can be almost impossible to see.  Mary and Martha were in that kind of a spot.  Jesus, the Christ, the source of all light and life was standing right there among them.  But they just couldn’t see the light, because of the darkness the death of their brother Lazarus brought and the sense of betrayal they felt… LORD… if ONLY you had been here. 

There’s a song that powerfully communicates that sort of darkness.  In New Orleans it’s often played at a funeral, and as the friends and family carry the casket through the streets to the cemetery, it’s played as a slow and mournful dirge, in a way that embraces that hurt… acknowledges that darkness… honors the pain of that loss in a way stronger than words alone can convey.  The song rings true because it doesn’t shy away from the overwhelming pain and loss we feel at times in this life… the times when it feels like the end times… times when the sun refuses to shine and the moon turns red with blood…

And when the sun, refuse to shine
And when the sun refuse to shine,
O Lord, I want to be in that number,
When the saints go marchin’ in

And when the moon, turns red with blood
And when the moon turns red with blood
O Lord, I want to be in that number
When the saints go marchin’ in

Their brother Lazarus was dead.  He lay in the tomb, past the time where there could be any hope left, past the time there was any going back, past the time there was anything else to be done.  There he was, and as the King James Version says, “He Stinketh!”  And the whole situation Stinketh!  How had it come to this?  Why had God let this happen?  Why had Jesus stayed away?  Why had Lazarus died?  LORD, if only you had been here! 

And standing there before the tomb, Jesus wept.  Jesus wept, for the people he loved, who were in such pain and anguish.  Jesus wept for the people he loved who still could not see that in him, standing right there in front of them, was the light and the life they were so deeply longing for.  Jesus wept, because the feast… the FEAST of rich food and well aged wine strained clear was set for them… IN HIM, and yet they stood there starving to death! 

I need an acolyte.  Now, I want you to try to take this bottle out of my hand.  Go on… try.  OK, now stop.  Now… stop trying and just do it.  Take the bottle. 

Bernie Roth of Standford’s design school does this exercise with his students to demonstrate a deep truth.  A subtle excuse lies in the idea of “trying.”  It’s as if today is for some vague half hearted attempt but the real action will happen in some future moment.  But as Master Yoda says, “NO!  Try not!  Do or do not.  There is no try.”

Our Master knows that same truth.  Look at what Jesus does next… he doesn’t say, “Lazarus, I’d like you to try to come out.”  “Lazarus, when you feel comfortable… when things seem to not be so strange and odd and uncertain… when things “Stinketh” a bit less, would you consider coming out?”  NO!  Jesus tells Lazarus, “COME OUT!” 

Today, all four churches are together, but I know it's not all in joy.  We’re gathered in a jumble of emotions and feelings.  In a real way we’re gathered like Lazarus… inside a tomb, and wrapped tightly with so much change and transition, conflict and uncertainty… and well… it STINKETH!  We’re wrapped with all that was built by generations past… the wonderful memories of full churches and huge endowments and powerful egos, now bound up and weighed down with guilt and fear and anger and pain… And so, Jesus weeps.  Jesus weeps with us.  Because the grief is real and the pain is deep.  And Jesus weeps FOR US, because together, God has gathered us all together here as the Body of Christ, and abundantly far more light and life than we could ever ask or imagine is RIGHT HERE… all the resources, funds, talent and creativity we need to be about God's work in this city is HERE... We're surrounded by it… we're swimming in it… and still we have a hard time seeing it.  So, Jesus weeps, because the Feast is right THERE, and still we choose to go hungry because we've forgotten the Feast, and hunger feels familiar. 

You’ll notice though, that the weeping in this passage, only lasts for a moment.  It’s the shortest verse in the Bible after all!  And then Jesus gives us a Word… Doesn't ask us... Jesus TELLS us what to do.  Come out.  Don’t try.  Don’t wait.  Don’t hedge your bet and stay wrapped in what was, bound to wallow in all that STINKETH!  Jesus says, "COME OUT!"

COME OUT!  St. Barnabas… COME OUT!  St. Matthew’s… COME OUT!  St. Mark’s… COME OUT!  Prince of Peace… COME OUT!  COME OUT, People of the 209… For the feast is set and it is time to come out into the light and LIVE!    

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

And on that hallelujah day
And on that hallelujah day
O Lord, I want to be in that number
When the Saints go marchin’ in!  

Thursday, October 15, 2015

How Much is Too Much Baggage?

The Holy Gospel According to St. Mark, the 10th Chapter

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to Jesus and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

James and John… the sons of Zebedee.  What did you guys think you’re doing?  You KNOW they tried this same thing on their dad Zebedee back when they were kids.  “Dad, we want you to say yes.”  “Say yes to what?” says Zebedee, not having just fallen off the turnip truck.  “Just say yes first and then we’ll tell you!”  You KNOW they tried it as kids and you KNOW it didn’t work.  How do I know they tried it?  Because we’ve ALL tried it!  And how often does it work?  Right!!  It NEVER works!  So why were James and John, who were at least chronologically adults at this point, trying to trick Jesus with kindergarten level material?

Now, I don’t KNOW for sure, but my guess is that kindergarten material was all the material they had left!  This little kindergarten exchange (and I don’t mean to belittle kindergarteners here, they are typically much smarter than James and John) but this little exchange is happening right after Jesus has told them… not for the first time and not for the second time… but for the THIRD time that the Kingdom of God was not, Not, NOT coming to town the way they expected.  Jesus would NOT be raising an army.  Jesus would NOT be kicking the Romans out.  He would NOT be installed as King of Israel the way they thought and all the disciples would NOT be getting cushy cabinet posts.  The Kingdom of God was coming by one way, and one way only… through Jesus’s death and resurrection and the death part was going to hurt… a lot.  

Every time Jesus tried to tell them that however, they basically stuck their fingers in their ears and said, “LALALA, I can’t hear you Jesus.  We don’t like your NEW FANGLED Messiah way Jesus, we want the OLD WAY… the way we’re used to… the way we’re comfortable with!”  The first time Jesus told them he was changing from a “king style” Messiah to a "death and resurrection" style Messiah, Peter spoke for the group and said, “By no means are you changing that!”  The second time, the disciples just changed the subject and talked about who among them was the most awesome and now James and John just changed the subject again and started talking about the seating arrangement in the new throne room!  

You see, what Jesus was telling them was going to happen was NOT how they wanted things to be!  It wasn’t at all what they had been taught for generations would happen!  It’s not what their great grandparents, grand parents, parents nor they had been taught or believed was true and right!  It was not, Not, NOT what they had become used to and comfortable with over all those generations.  

None of them could even begin IMAGINE how this “death and resurrection” crazy idea could possibly work!  Jesus!  What are you thinking?  Jesus!  You’re going against TRADITION!  Jesus!  I don’t LIKE this NEW way!  Jesus!  This is uncomfortable!  Jesus!  I want the OLD way back… the TRADITIONAL way… the MEET, RIGHT and SALUTARY way…  Jesus!  THIS IS REALLY, REALLY HARD!

Interestingly, I think this past week I met James and John’s long lost relative here in Augusta.  I saw him in the mirror.  Not much hair on top.  Ruggedly handsome guy though.  He was sort of dragging around mumbling the same things that James and John were mumbling way back then… “Jesus, this is HARD!”  And putting together four different churches IS hard and a bit messy too.

There are super, happy, excited people in the church stepping on other people’s toes in their excitement trying to help.  There are super grouchy people in the church stepping on other people’s toes, because they are hurt and scared and angry and they want other people to feel their pain.  There are excited people outside the church who are cheering and praying and telling the world how wonderful this is and there are grouchy people outside the church telling people this will never, never, never work and it’s dumb and the pastor is dumb and the priest is stupid and we’re all just sad foolish children for even trying and we’re all doomed…DOOMED!  JESUS!  This is hard! 

It is hard.  Everything that was, is changing into everything that will be.  James and John had NO IDEA what Jesus was talking about when he went on about being “raised from the dead.”  We're used to hearing about Easter but they had never even heard of such a thing and like them, we have NO IDEA what this will all look like when God gets done with us either.  

But that right there... RIGHT THERE is the key bit isn’t it?  WHEN GOD GETS DONE WITH US.  I think James and John and his Augusta relative and folks in and out of the church sometimes forget... GOD is in all of this.  We forget that God has a plan for us… for our benefit and not for our harm… granted, God’s not come out with a full set of blueprints on this (which is really annoying sometimes) but what’s happening here is God’s work and God has this remarkable tendency to work with the least likely sorts of people and the most impossible situations to accomplish the most unlikely, marvelous and miraculous things!  

How on earth was that rich man last week going to get through the eye of a needle?  Even if he gave up all his stuff, he’d still be man-sized and a needle is still needle-sized.  Can’t be done!  But with God… well, God it turns out can reach through the eye of that needle and pull that rich man, James, John, their modern Augusta relative, the Church at 209 and the whole world through!  And how on earth did Jesus pick a couple of hard headed, unchanging, kindergarten minded disciples like James and John.  What a mess!  But with God… well, James and John become St. James and St. John just a bit further down the road on the other side of Easter.  And how on earth can four churches from two denominations with all sorts of sorted pasts with priests and pastors who behaved in much too human ways and conflicts and splits and arrogance and piles and piles of emotional baggage begin to make a go of it together?  I was told this week by one of those people on the outside that it just couldn’t be done!  It couldn’t!  It was impossible!  How did I EVER believe that all of that mountain of horrible baggage could EVER be overcome?  And what on earth did trying this crazy, impossible thing say about me?  

I took just a minute and thought about that question.  What did trying something crazy, new, impossible, strange and infinitely complicated with four churches with beautiful gifts and wonderful stories and also tons of historical, emotional and painfully human baggage say about me?  And then, this long lost relative of James and John said, “I guess it says that I believe in the power of death and resurrection.”  And I do.  I really do!  Amen.