Thursday, November 26, 2015

Get Busy Livin' Or Get Busy Dyin'

The Holy Gospel According to St. Luke, the 21st Chapter

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 

“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

"Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap."  

I have personal experience with “worries of this life” and my guess is that you do too.  I’m also pretty clear with what “drunkenness” is all about having experienced both college and the effects of White Russians in the high altitudes of the Rockies.  But I have to admit, I needed to go look up what “dissipation” was.  I figured it was bad, stuck in a list with other bad stuff, but bad in what way?  It turns out that dissipation can be even more drunkenness, OR it can be a squandering of money or resources OR if you take the science/physics meaning, dissipation is the “loss of energy, especially by heat.”  So, dissipation can be thought of as slamming on the brakes.  You push the pedal and your brakes come together and change the forward energy of your car into heat and you slow down and stop.  

These are the things, Jesus tells us, we are NOT supposed to do as we live and wait and watch in our time.  We all live in this strange time, in-between Jesus conquering death at the Resurrection and the Kingdom of God fully being present.  The temptation, as we get up each day and are almost instantly drown by a flood of horrible news, is to deal with the latest terrorist horror, the latest brutal shooting death, the latest racist rant or call to trade freedoms for promised security… the temptation as we are nearly overwhelmed by that tsunami of life-draining news is to deal with it by escaping it, with things like drinking, shopping or eating to excess.  The temptation as we feel like we're drowning, weighed down by worry and fear in a flood of truly horrible things, is to lash out like a drowning victim.  The temptation is to slam on the brakes to anything or anyone different or new or unknown and “dissipate” the forward moving energy of love, into the raw heat that comes with fighting, friction, anger, violence and hate.  

On Wednesday I was over at the capital with a bunch of area clergy and about a hundred other folks, letting the world know we were residents of Maine who would welcome Syrian refugees.  As I stood there with Father Frank, my Catholic colleague, a man pulled up to the light and said, “If you had a bag of M&M’s and you knew ten of them could be deadly poison, would you eat that bag of M&M’s?”  I think Father Frank, knowing that a deep, philosophical discussion with a guy hanging out of a pickup truck at a stoplight was unlikely, just said, “Yeah, I’d eat them.  M&M’s are delicious.”  The guy shook his head and as he drove off told us that Governor LePage was the best Governor Maine had ever had.  

I’ve been thinking about that ever since… not the part about the governor, but the part about the M&Ms.  I’ve been thinking about that because right there, hanging out of a pickup truck window was a man, weighed down with horrible fear and a terror so strong he would choose to never eat another M&M in his life… he would slam on the brakes of his love of candy coated milk chocolate goodness and dissipate that energy of love into the heat of fear, anger and hatred.  Locked in that fear, he wouldn't even TRY to figure out a way to determine which M&M’s were poison and which were delicious, but instead just cut himself off from all of them forever.  THAT, is precisely NOT how Jesus advises us to wait between the time when he conquered death and when he comes again.  Instead of trying to escape from the hard things that come in this life, instead of handling difficult things with "all or nothing" reactions, instead of fearing and hating and lashing out… Jesus advises us, when these things begin to take place, to STAND UP and RAISE YOUR HEADS, because your redemption is drawing near.

Pulling back, staying away, picking fights, closing boarders… THAT isn’t the way.  Trying to escape the difficult things in our lives by consuming more and more drink or food or buying more things… THAT’S not the way.  Slamming on the breaks and exchanging the energy of love for the heat of fear, anger and hate… THAT’s NOT the way either!  

In the movie, the Shawshank Redemption, there’s a scene where Red, is talking to Andy.  They are both in prison, and Red talks about his fear of living on the outside, not having lived there for decades and decades, but Andy isn’t ready to give in, he’s determined to hold on to hope, even in the face of what seems impossible and at the end of the scene, Andy turns to Red and says, “I guess it comes down to a simple choice really… get busy living, or get busy dying.”

You see, the WAY Jesus tells us to deal with the flood of horrible news, the tsunami of terror and the tidal wave of inequality and injustice is not to hide in fear, but to STAND UP and RAISE YOUR HEAD!  The WAY to deal with all that the world throws at us is to LOOK UP, LEAN IN and GET BUSY LIVING!  To LOOK UP and SEE that Christ, the One who overcame death and the grave, is fully present with us right here… right now!

I think we forget that too easily.  I think I forget that too easily.  We look at the horrors of the world and the pain and grief of the changes and challenges in our lives… we read these passages about some far off coming apocalypse, the end of the world and Jesus coming in the clouds some time in some far off distant future we’ll probably never live to see... and we forget.  

We forget that right there, every week, the Son of Man comes to us… and if we would just LOOK UP… just STAND UP and RAISE OUR HEADS, we would SEE that somehow, each week, wrapped in a cloud of mystery, Christ is fully present in our midst, right there in the bread and the wine.  And there in that cloud of mystery, Christ isn't asking us to wait for some far off mysterious future sign that the world will SOMEDAY be made right.  Instead, Christ is RIGHT THERE, RIGHT NOW and then as we open our hands,  Christ is right here… in each of us. 

We forget... I forget... that Christ is with us, empowering us not to wait in fear FOR a sign, but that we have been empowered to go into the world with courage and love and BE a sign... BE a sign that life is stronger than death, that love is more powerful than hate, that there is room in our hearts, and our state and our neighborhoods for people who at first feel different but who end up being children of God just like us.  

At the end of the Shawshank Redemption, Red finds a note that Andy hid after he escaped from prison and Red had been paroled.  The note says, “Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things and no good thing ever dies.”  So, stand up, lift your heads, come to the Table and receive the power of the risen Christ, who comes to us in a cloud of mystery every week and empowers us with unlimited love and grace so that we would BE the sign of hope our world so desperately needs.  Amen.  

Friday, November 13, 2015

Wars and Rumors of Wars

The Holy Gospel According to St. Mark, the 13th Chapter

As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.

Sometimes it feels like only an apocalypse, only God breaking into our world, could have the power to put things right.  Mark’s gospel was written to people who felt just that way, and today feels much the same.  

Children die from hunger.  Only a miracle will do.  Women stay with an abusive partner because they can’t see another way to care for their children.  Only a miracle will do.  The poor and hungry are demonized and people of different races and religions are made to be scapegoats.  Only a miracle will do.  Acts of terror rip apart Beirut and Paris while hate and war drive families into flimsy rubber rafts as their neighborhoods turn to rubble.  Only a miracle will do.  Even in our church at 209, with everything changing around us.  Sometimes it feels like only a miracle will do.

Mark, at the end of his gospel paints a picture of the world getting darker.  The sun sets, darkness falls, midnight comes and the darkness grows.  The moon sets, the darkness becomes overwhelming and before the dawn it is the darkest and the coldest time of the night.  Frustratingly, Mark’s gospel doesn’t “fix” it as we would like.  Instead it sits with us IN it.  It acknowledges that darkness in our lives is real, that life gets colder and darker the longer we wait for relief.  Waiting is hard enough, but waiting for relief that will come at some unknown time is nearly impossible.  We want a sign!  We NEED a sign!  Sometimes we need a sign so badly we create them, hoping to somehow force God to give us the miracle we need.  

So, how long O Lord must we wait!?  THAT’s the question we desperately want answered.  But that answer isn’t what we get in Mark's gospel or anywhere else in the Bible.  What we get isn’t a time table telling us about the future where “one day” we might begin live.  No, what we get instead is an invitation to begin to live RIGHT NOW… right where we are… even feeling trapped in that dark, cold, fear filled place… we hear an invitation to LIVE! 

A quote attributed to Martin Luther says, “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”  And one attributed to Winston Churchill says, “If you are going through hell, keep going!”  Those invitations to LIVE even in the midst of darkness… even in the depths of that fear, is an invitation to move, live, serve and love as if that miracle we are desperately waiting for has already come.  And here’s the not-so-secret, secret… that miracle HAS INDEED already come! 

It’s part of the way God created us, that the first thing we do when we are threatened, is that we unconsciously pull back to somewhere familiar, respond the way we’ve responded before.  That’s why our hearts race as we approach the edge of a cliff.  God gave us that reaction so we don't just walk off the edge in blissful ignorance!  The edge of the chasm IS a threat… it’s different… it’s deep and your body tells you, by relocating your stomach up into your throat, to BACK UP!  TURN AROUND!  STOP MOVING FORWARD!  It’s a beautiful gift!  Without that gift our ancestor’s bones would be piled up at the bottom of some chasm and humanity would be extinct!  It’s a really good gift!  

But lashing out or backing away are not the ONLY gifts we’ve been given.  That is not ALL God created us to be.  God made us more than that!  God also created us with the ability to stop and imagine life beyond just instinctual reaction... to imagine life on the other side of the chasm, to see another possibility beyond just attack or retreat, and see the possibility of a life that is more than just an endless cycle of fighting and running.  The truth is that God created us for MORE than that kind of shallow life!  We have been created for ABUNDANT life!  

But HOW?  HOW can we get from here to there?  WHAT can get us to the other side… what can move us beyond just fighting or running... Only a Miracle will do!  Yes, only a miracle will do, but the miracle we need is not a “WHAT.”  The miracle is a “WHO” and the miracle we need... the miracle we HAVE, has lived among us, died in the pain of reactionary fear and been raised from the dead!  The miracle we need to get to the other side of this turmoil, darkness, fear and pain, both far and near, is even now inviting us, poking us, prodding us, provoking us to follow to abundant life!  The miracle we need... the miracle we HAVE is Jesus, and in his death and resurrection has already brought us from fear to abundant life!  

I know it doesn’t feel like it.  But just because it's hard to see, doesn't mean it isn't here.  I see glimpses of the Miracle we need... the Miracle we HAVE, shining through the cracks of our very real pain and very real darkness.  Have you seen the veggies and produce piling up for the Thanksgiving baskets?  When we are generous like that we are walking the Jesus way and the light shines through that generosity into the darkness!  Did you see that beautiful family connection between the daughter of a D-Day aviator and the son of a D-Day paratrooper last week?  When we commit to being together, in that investment of time and being present, we discover that we have always been connected and the light shines in the darkness!  Have you heard our choir?  Have you heard our singing?  When we choose not to get drawn into fights and gossip and reactions and when we choose to not run away when it is hard and instead choose to sing… we are walking the Jesus way and the light shines in the darkness!  

God has created us to live our lives beyond the fear, pain and automatic reactions that draw us away from life and into never-ending life-draining battles.  God has created us for so much more than that... for the abundant life we will discover we already possess by following the Jesus Way… taking one step at a time, as the lesson from Hebrews tells us, PROVOKING one another to love, being together and encouraging one another more and more as we see the Day approaching.  Amen.