Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Two Ways to Get Stoned

The Holy Gospel According To St. Luke, the 4th Chapter

Then Jesus began to say to all in the synagogue in Nazareth, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet
Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” 

When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

There are two ways to get stoned.  STOP.  Let’s stay focused.  We’re not in Colorado.  SO, if someone is going to be stoned TO DEATH, with EARTH-TYPE stones, you can either hold the person still and throw the rocks at them OR you can keep the rocks still and throw the person at the rocks.  The crowd in today’s Gospel, by the end of the story, were focused on the second method.  They were pushing Jesus to the edge of a cliff, intent on throwing him at the rocks at 32 feet per second squared.  The question is, what made these folks from Nazareth, so angry that they went from being “amazed” one minute, to wanting to kill him just a couple of verses later? 

I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard of Nazareth my whole life, so I always assumed it must be some kind of big, old city.  But the reality is that Nazareth was a big, old city in the same way New Limerick, New Sweden and Newburg are big "new" cities here in Maine.  Hallowell, it turns out, would be a sprawling, out of control, urban jungle compared to Nazareth.  So Nazareth was tiny AND Nazareth was out in the middle of nowhere AND it was surrounded by all sorts of non-Jewish, foreign type people AND to add insult in injury Nazareth had a reputation.  Remember when Philip, one of Jesus’s first disciples, went to tell his friend Nathanial about this guy, Jesus of Nazareth… remember Nathanial’s first reaction?  “Nazareth!?  Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” 

So Nazareth was a small, out in the boondocks, isolated, keep to themselves, backwards Jewish town with a pretty checkered reputation.  It was the kind of town where everybody can and does know everybody.  So they knew Jesus and they had for twenty years.  Jesus was their hometown boy!  So what was it that made this crowd of people, who knew Jesus better than anybody else on earth, go from singing the praises of their hometown hero to homicidal?

I think two things happened that sent the crowd over the edge, so to speak.  First, he told them those two stories about how God had worked in the past.  He told them the story of how, during a horrible drought and famine, God didn’t send Elijah the prophet to any of the home town people, but sent Elijah and the miracle of an oil jug and a flour jar that never went empty to some non-Jewish, foreign woman!  Then he told them that other story of when, even though there were tons of home town type folks with leprosy in Israel, God chose to cure Naaman… a SYRIAN... God, caring about a Syrian... what was God thinking! 

I think the SECOND thing that happened was that in the first part of this story we read last week, Jesus came to town and unrolled the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and read, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for prisoners, sight for the blind, the oppressed set free and the year of the Lord’s favor.”  THIS, Jesus told them had been fulfilled in their hearing. 

You see, I think it was his own hometown friends and neighbors who had their blindness suddenly lifted.  Sight for THEIR blindness had been restored in their hearing and with that new sight, they could see that those two stories meant that all the good stuff… all the miracles and signs Jesus had done out there for THOSE people, weren’t going to happen here for the people who had known him the longest. 

They could see that Jesus didn’t have a better, more powerful, more grace-filled set of miracles, signs and wonders hidden in his robe pocket, saved up for the home town crowd!  NO, they saw… REALLY saw... that Jesus had given it ALL away... to THOSE people… those Samaritans, sinners, tax collectors and even to that stinking Roman soldier’s kid, for God’s sake!  He didn’t have ANYTHING special for them!  He had lavished it all on THEIR poor and on THEIR prisoners and on who knows what kind of the world’s refuse!  He had given away a year of the Lord’s favor to the likes of Syrians… SYRIANS for God’s sake... and who knows who else from who knows where!  People who should really just go back to where they came from because JESUS WAS THEIRS!  Jesus didn’t belong to all those faithless foreigners!  Jesus belonged to THEM!  But apparently Jesus had forgotten where he came from and had just GIVEN it all away.

Their sight had been restored alright and what they could see when their eyes were opened was something they hated with a white hot passion!  Jesus had given God’s love and God’s grace and God’s favor to OTHERS and left all of them with NOTHING!  Nothing but Joseph’s boy standing there with empty pockets!  Just Jesus.  He had miracles and wonders for THOSE people, but it was just Jesus empty handed for the home town crowd!  They felt like they had been cheated and so they went to throw him out of town the fastest way they could… right over the cliff.

So that’s what they saw.  Now the question is, do you see what they didn’t?  They saw a part of the picture with their new, opened eyes, but they still missed something… the most important something actually.  You see, Jesus did give away all those miracles, signs, healings and feedings.  Their mistake was that they thought that Jesus had given EVERYTHING away to those “others”… those “foreigners”… those “people of other faiths” and “people of no faith at all” and that standing there with empty pockets, Jesus had NOTHING left for them… the home town boy with none of those shiny presents for his home town family and friends.  But they missed it.  Literally standing right there in front of their faces, they missed it. 

It’s true they didn’t get water turned into wine, walking on water or feeding five thousand.  It’s true they didn’t see the dead raised, the lame walking or the deaf hearing.  All they got was Jesus and they missed it.  They were looking for PRESENTS but instead they got Jesus's PRESENCE and in that they had EVERYTHING!  Jesus IS everything!  You and I… we have that same gift!  Do you see it?  Jesus's presence.  We go around and around every week saying “The Body of Christ, given for you!” so that we all might see it… that we too have EVERYTHING!  We have Jesus!  We may not get the miracles and signs the way we’d love to see.  We may not get water turned into wine at our weddings, but each week, we get Jesus… each week we get everything… EVERYTHING… God with us... all we need and infinitely more! 

With Jesus… we have EVERYTHING... with Jesus that prophecy has been fulfilled in our presence too... we have been freed from the prison of scarcity and selfishness to join with Jesus in sharing God’s grace and love with those beyond our home town… with foreigners, captives, prisoners, refugees and people of every color and faith or no faith at all.  Because we have Jesus… because we have EVERYTHING... we have more than enough.  

In Jesus's presence, our eyes are open.  We can see God’s love and God’s grace showering down beyond every boarder, label and box people build and defend.  In Jesus's presence the captives have been set free!  In Jesus's presence WE are free to slip through the angry, hate filled crowds that fume and foam in our world... we are free to slip through with Jesus and share God's infinite and unconditional love and grace with all the world.  We have EVERYTHING... we have Jesus.  Amen.

Gallo Pinto (Costa Rican Beans and Rice)

Gallo Pinto is literally translated as "spotted rooster" but it’s also the nick name for Costa Rican beans and rice.  Here is my attempt (with apologies to my Tico friends out there!) after finding a key ingredient... Salsa Lizano on Amazon.  This is often a breakfast dish.  I like it with a fried egg on top, both for the irony of an egg on top of “spotted rooster” but also because the yolk soaks in as you eat.  You can also add a little sour cream to your serving if you’d like.  Pura Vida!


3 C         Cooked rice, leftover is preferred 
1 Can       Black beans including liquid
1             Red Pepper
1             Medium Onion 
2            Cloves Garlic 
¼ C         Salsa Lizano (add extra to taste)
¼ C        Fresh Cilantro


Chop onion and pepper in a small dice and sauté until onion is translucent, 6-8 minutes.  Chop garlic fine and add to onion and peppers and sauté an additional 2 minutes.  Add beans with liquid from can and Salsa Lizano and simmer together 5 minutes (if you don’t have Salsa Lizano you can use Worcestershire Sauce and a half teaspoon of cumin, which I've tried and it's alright but not the same).  Stir in rice and finely chopped cilantro, heat through and serve. 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

All the Wine!

The Holy Gospel According to St. John, the 2nd Chapter

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. 

When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus doesn’t do miracles.  Jesus does SIGNS.  Turning water into wine was, the story tells us, the first of Jesus’ SIGNS and this one, like all of Jesus’ SIGNS, point us first to a better understanding of WHO and WHOSE Jesus was and is, BUT, they also point you and me, the followers of Jesus, in a particular direction for us to walk along The Way.  However, before we do all of that, I’m sorry to say we have to go to math class first, and today we have word problems.

Jesus had six stone jars each holding between 20 and 30 gallons of water.  How much wine did Jesus make?  Correct class, Jesus made 120 to 180 gallons of wine.  That is between 600 and 900 bottles and THAT equals a lot of wine!  

Each of Jesus’ stone jars held 20 to 30 gallons of water.  At 8.34 pounds per gallon, how many pounds of water did Jesus have to work with?  Correct again!  Jesus had between 167 pounds and 250 pounds of water or wine inside.  For a fun, bonus, enology fact today I’ll let you know that wine weighs just a tiny bit more per gallon than water, but for us today, we’ll call it pretty much even.  

You can relax now because that’s the end of math class for today, but math class may have been the easier part of this story.  This part may be harder because remember, this SIGN isn’t just something meant to tell us something interesting and informative about Jesus.  This SIGN also calls you and me, Jesus’ followers, to be at work in the world in a pretty particular way.

The first thing this SIGN is calling US to do, is to be open to having our plans changed.  Jesus didn’t PLAN for this to be his first miracle.  When Jesus’s mom, Mary pointed out that the party had run out of wine, Jesus told her, “What concern is that to us?  Fixing this wedding problem isn’t part of the PLAN!”  To which Mary replies, “Plans change.  Deal with it.”  Hail Mary, full of grace, nothin’!  Hail Mary, full of “Do what your mother says young man!”  

But in the end, Jesus changed his plans.  AND if the King of Kings and Lord of Lords can have HIS plans changed…. you better believe that any and ALL of us can and will experience some plot twists in our stories as well!  We learn here that Jesus listens, pays attention and is willing (with a little coaxing from mom) to have his plans changed… that things change EVEN for Jesus and God works amazing things in those plot twists!  So, we too are called by this sign to live likewise… listening, paying attention and changing our plans as life’s plot twists play themselves out for us as individuals and for us as a church, always remembering that God is in those too.  

The second thing this SIGN points out is HOW Jesus responds to this change in plans.  He could have made just enough wine to get by.  He could have done the bare minimum to make mom happy.  But he didn’t.  He responded with ABUNDANCE!  Remember the math lesson?  He made 160 to 180 GALLONS of wine!  Think of your fuel oil tank… THAT MUCH WINE!  He made 600 to 900 bottles of wine!  He didn’t make just enough to get by, he made ALL the wine and THAT reminds us that Jesus is big into ABUNDANCE!  ABUNDANCE of grace, love, forgiveness, compassion, generosity and hope!  So, we too are called, as followers of Jesus, to be people of ABUNDANCE as well.  As individuals and as a church community, we are being called by this sign to be ABUNDANTLY generous with our gifts, our talents, our time and our treasure.  This sign calls us to ABUNDANT living with compassion, forgiveness, hospitality and hope!  

The third thing this SIGN points out is the nature of how Jesus responds to that change in plans.  Jesus could have easily done a miracle that conjured up 180 gallons of the cheap stuff.  That would have been miracle enough and no one would have known the difference at that point in the party.  But EVEN when NO ONE would notice, Jesus makes the very, VERY BEST!  And with this SIGN, you and I, as followers of Jesus, are called to give our very, VERY best to God and our neighbors too, even when no one else is looking and even when no one will ever know!  

That may seem like a lot.  Called to put aside OUR plans, OUR passions, OUR needs, OUR desires and instead follow the plot twists in our lives.  To live for “The Other” NOT with “just what we have to spare” and not with “what we can get away with” but with our very, VERY best, lavished with ABUNDANCE.  THAT may seem like quite the overwhelming request… And it is.  It IS too much to ask us.  We can’t do that like Jesus did.  We can’t turn water into wine.  We can’t manage that level of abundance and we can’t always give our very, VERY best!  We just CAN’T.  We’re just flesh and bone.  We’re just human!  

It’s true.  We are just human.  Just organs and bones, muscles and skin, mud and clay.  It's true, we are basically just containers, filled with about, oh, 150-ish pounds of water, which is, oh, about 20-ish gallons, which is perhaps just coincidentally the exact amount of water in each one of those six water jars which Jesus touched when he did the first of his SIGNS in Cana of Galilee.    

Alone, without God, without Christ, we ARE just flesh and bone... earthen vessels filled with water.  BUT when we are touched by Christ, there in the waters of Baptism and there at the Table, Jesus does a sign IN US!  In Christ we have been transformed from something common into something extraordinary.  In Christ we are the miracle!  In Christ we become the SIGN!  

You are the miracle!  You are the SIGN!  You have been transformed!  So go!  There is a party in desperate need of what God has to give it through you!  Go and bring the generosity, love, grace, forgiveness, compassion and joy God has created in you out to the world!  And remember, just like 180 gallons of wine can transform a party disaster into the best party ever, you have been transformed in Christ to do nothing less than to change the world!  Amen.