Friday, June 24, 2016

Bound and Determined!

The Holy Gospel According to St. Luke, the 9th Chapter

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Jesus “set his face” to go to Jerusalem which is Bible-talk for Jesus being BOUND AND DETERMINED and being that bound and determined to go to Jerusalem made the Samaritans pretty grouchy.  You see, there was disagreement between the Jews and the Samaritans about which mountain was THE holy mountain and with Jesus headed to the city on top of the “wrong” holy mountain, the Samaritans didn’t want anything to do with Jesus.  He was obviously not “their” messiah.  

They didn’t understand who Jesus really was, which seems bad, but then neither did his own disciples.  They thought he was a “rain hellfire” sort of Messiah.  They just didn’t understand that Jesus was an “I’ll go through death for you” sort of Messiah, not a “rain hellfire” sort of Messiah and the sad truth is that people still have trouble with that today.

But Jesus being BOUND AND DETERMINED and the disciples not understanding what Jesus was all about is only part of the story.  The rest of this story is about discipleship.  Now, discipleship has been made out to be an intellectual exercise, but really it’s more about living, doing, walking and working in the same way Jesus lives and walks and works.  It’s more arm and leg work than brain work.  But this lesson isn’t so much focused on what discipleship IS.  This lesson is more about what discipleship is NOT.  

First, it seems, discipleship is NOT about finding Jesus.  The first man in the story wanted to follow Jesus without being called, but you see, nobody finds Jesus.  Jesus finds us.  This man wanted discipleship to be HIS idea, but Jesus wasn’t ready for him just yet and simply leaves him beside the road with his head spinning and his mouth hanging open.  

Second, discipleship is apparently NOT just part-time.  When Jesus does call, it’s all the way… to come and die.  To die to our preferences, our comforts and our time tables.  The Apostle Paul says that as a disciple, “it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me” and dying isn’t something you can do just part-time.  That second man wanted to follow, but just part time.  The other part of the time he wanted to take care of his family.  Honestly, not a bad thing really.  But when Jesus calls, it means EVERYTHING else is swept aside.  You just can’t follow the Jesus Way some of the time and work’s way or the country’s way or even mom and dad’s way the rest of the time.  When Jesus calls, it’s for ALL of our time!  

Third, it looks like discipleship does NOT allow for conditions.  The third man would follow… BUT… with one condition… he wanted to go back and say good-bye.  Conditional discipleship is just not discipleship.  It’s doing your own thing, making your own decisions and setting your own agenda.  Discipleship is doing what Jesus calls you to do…letting Jesus completely set your agenda.  

All that makes discipleship seem REALLY hard.  And there’s a reason it seems really hard.  Because it is REALLY HARD!  You heard St. Paul, “it’s no longer I who lives but Christ who lives in me.”  That’s really hard!  Are you ready… am I ready to be a disciple on Jesus’s timeline, or maybe we’d rather be a disciple when it best fits our schedules?  Are we ready to be a full-time disciple or is part-time all the time we have?  And when we’re called to follow are we ready to follow unconditionally or are there some “buts” in the way… is there an asterisk or two… or maybe three?  Like, * when it feels good… * when it goes my way…  *when it fits my schedule?

We all want to be in control of deciding to follow.  I know I want to be in control of deciding!  But the truth is that Jesus calls us, not when we’re ready for Jesus but when Jesus is ready for us!  

We all want to keep at least a part of our lives for ourselves.  I know I want to keep a part of my life for myself!  But the truth is that Jesus doesn’t call us to part-time work, but to a new, full-time, life in Christ!  

We all want to have discipleship go our way.  I know I want my discipleship to go my way!  But the truth is that death does not have any room for asterisks, “buts” or conditions and nothing but death… the all the way dead kind of death… leads to new life in Christ.   

So, you see, THAT’s the reason Jesus is so demanding of us as disciples.  He KNOWs the path he laid out is the path to living the real and abundant life God created us ALL to live and Jesus is simply BOUND AND DETERMINED to have EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US really, really LIVE!  In fact, Jesus is so BOUND AND DETERMINED that not even DEATH could get in the way of him giving us God’s gift of new and abundant life.   Amen.  

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Psalm 13 for Orlando

The Psalmist writes:
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?

And we echo that tonight asking:  Oh MY God, HOW freakin’ LONG? Harvey Milk, Columbine, Stonewall, Aurora, Matthew Shepherd, Sandy Hook, San Bernardino and Orlando and an endless list of hate and death that goes on and on and never ends!  Have you forgotten us forever?  The music has stopped.  How long will this painful, silent, darkness go on?

The Psalmist continues:
How long must I bear pain in my soul, and endure grief in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

And we hear that too, asking:  How long can we live in constant gut-wrenching, heart breaking grief day after day, month after month, year after year, city after city?  How long will those who sell hate and weapons and pain and fear continue to win time after time after time after time?

And the Psalmist goes on angrily writing:
Look at me and answer me, O Lord my God! Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death

And we too demand:  LOOK AT US!  DEAR GOD, ANSWER US!  Our light… the life in our eyes is going out.  If you don’t answer us, the light will most certainly be swallowed up in all of this horrible darkness.  

The Psalmist writes:
My enemy will say, “I have prevailed”; my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.

And we too cry out:  We hear every, single, time, “there is nothing we can do but pray”!  And then those who spout those platitudes laugh as they legislate away freedoms, dignity, safety, and lives in exchange for profits and power!  

And yet, somehow, the Psalmist is able to write:
I trust you God, I trust in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.

And miraculously, we too can somehow say:  That even when the LGBTQ community’s sanctuary has been invaded, desecrated and violated (and this their sanctuary because I confess, our sanctuaries have too often been unwelcoming or conditional) And even when Latinos and Latinas are treated as less than human… even with ALL OF THAT, Dear God, somehow we are able to proclaim tonight… even when reason says we shouldn’t… that Your never wavering, passionate, justice-demanding, all embracing love surrounds us, fills us, makes us holy, and shines a light that shatters even the darkest darkness.  

And then the Psalmist… and you and I, with the power that is love that is love that is love can boldly say:  We will not be quiet!  The music will not remain silent! We WILL sing and we WILL dance and we WILL be FIERCE for the Lord!  The Lord, who showers on us the wonders of this world!  Look at the people gathered here tonight.  Look in their eyes and in their hearts and SEE how generously God’s love has been poured out in them and through them on all of us!  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Clear Cut or Cracked Pots?

The Holy Gospel According to St. Luke, the 7th Chapter

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and took his place at the table.  And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment.  She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment.  Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him--that she is a sinner."  Jesus spoke up and said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." "Teacher," he replied, "Speak."  "A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.  When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?"  Simon answered, "I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt." And Jesus said to him, "You have judged rightly."  Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair.  You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet.  You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.  Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little."  Then he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven."  But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?"  And he said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace."

Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him,  as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

We all love the kinds of movies where the good guy is good and the bad guy is bad.  We like it clear cut.  Calming green light saber - good.  Angry red light saber - bad.  We like it that way in our movies, in our politics, in the Bible and in our churches… 100% good or 100% bad… THAT’S what we like.   

Because we like it, it’s tempting to do it here too.  The Pharisee is rude, arrogant, inhospitable and frankly… he’s kind of a jerk… 100% bad guy.  The woman is humble, thankful and respectful… 100% good, right?  Too bad life isn’t a movie, isn’t that perfect and doesn’t really fit so neatly into those boxes.  The Pharisee, in spite of his flaws, is actually a deeply, deeply faithful man.  He’s incredibly committed to God.  He does what he does, not because he wants to be a jerk but because he believes that a seriously strict following of a faithful discipline is THE best way to draw closer to God.  You have to admit, if a person has a deep desire to draw closer to God it makes it hard for them to be 100% evil.  

The woman too, it turns out, isn’t exactly 100% good.  No matter the details of her sin, being a sinner leads to pain for the person and others around her.  The reality of this Gospel story is that neither the Pharisee nor the woman is 100% anything… well… other than 100% human.  The other truth… an even harder truth, is that if we can come out of our all-or-nothing trenches for a minute, we can see that each of them had a unique insight on God that the other sorely needs... the hard truth is that they NEED each other.  
The Pharisee desperately needed to learn about the depth and breath of God’s forgiving grace and love.  He had the LAW part down.  He seriously needed some Gospel!  In other words, he knew the rules but needed to learn that no one is ever, EVER beyond God’s infinite and unconditional love nor can anyone ever be good enough not to need it!  He needed to learn how, out of God’s infinite love, we are empowered to be hospitable, compassionate, humble and caring.  She had that part DOWN!  She KNEW God’s love and forgiveness!  She KNEW how to respond out of God’s love and grace with hospitality, thankfulness and care of her neighbor.  Whether he recognized it or not, he NEEDED the amazing treasure of God’s Grace and Love.  Unlike the clean-cut Pharisee, her brokenness was easy to see.  She couldn’t fool anyone.  Not even herself.  She knew God’s undeserved love was all she had to lean on.  NOW, while that Pharisee didn’t have the easy-to-see sorts of flaws like she did, he’s still just as human… just as broken.  He too needed God’s undeserved love just as much as she did and her perspective could help him see how God’s love flows into cracks of our lives and through that love we are transformed in ways we never thought possible.  

But it wasn’t just him that needed her... she needed him just as much!  He had real gifts!   Passion, commitment and an understanding of the transformative power of following a holy discipline.  He knew that the rules of the law weren’t given to trick humanity but to help us have a way to live with healthy boundaries and live a less anxious life.  He knew the rituals and the practices could help her become more aware of God at work in her life and bring her peace.  Could the woman trust a member of a religious group that had judged her and hurt her before?  Would the leader of that religious institution become humble enough to be willing to learn from a “sinner”? 

The lesson Jesus was trying to teach at that dinner is a lesson the world needs now as much as it needed it back then.  We are all connected.  All saints and sinners.  All pharisees and sinners.  We’re all beloved children of God and imperfect creatures of the earth.  So whether we’re church folk or outside-the-church folk, we need one another!

Us church folk need the people out there.. and I’m not talking about for their numbers or dollars!  The people who are not here have a way of understanding God’s love and grace and a perspective on faith that we need to hear, honor and embrace and we have something powerful to share as well.  But an attitude of superiority in either direction won’t build that bridge because it simply isn’t true!  The Apostle Paul uses the analogy of clay pots to talk about us humans… and no matter if we have a glossy paint job or are just plain clay, we’re all a bunch of crack pots if we’re honest… no different from one another... 100% human… perfectly made and wonderfully flawed.

The truth is we NEED each other and to receive what the others have to give we’ll need to let down our guard and become vulnerable.  We’ll need to be honest with the world about our own cracks for the same reasons the Pharisee needed that woman and that woman needed the Pharisee:  Because the breath and depth of God’s love and grace at work in our lives comes at us and is in us and runs through us in just too many ways for us to see from our own perspective alone.  We need to be part of a mutual, vulnerable and caring community to more fully take in the wideness of God’s love, forgiveness and grace at work in our lives.  The question for us is will we be moved?  Will we be vulnerable?  Will we truly commit fully to our faith community? Are we willing to see ourselves and this world through new eyes?  Are we ready to really follow Jesus? Amen.

Friday, June 3, 2016

The Man Well Beyond Just "Mostly Dead"

The Holy Gospel According to St. Luke, the 7th Chapter

Soon afterwards Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. 

When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.

Last week there was a centurion who wanted Jesus to heal his slave.  He sent some local, Jewish, religious folks (folks who should know better) to ask Jesus to heal the man’s slave and when they got to Jesus they embellished a bit and said, “This centurion is WORTHY of having this done.”  THEN, as Jesus made his way toward the centurion’s sick slave, the centurion sent some of his friends and they told Jesus (without embellishment) that the centurion said, “I am NOT worthy.”  After that, Jesus declared that the centurion, who understood that God works by GRACE ALONE and did not ever, ever, EVER work off of what we DESERVE… Jesus declared THAT centurion (not the religious people) the most faithful person in all of Israel.  

This week, Jesus, knowing that last week a lot of people were on vacation for Memorial Day weekend AND knowing that even 2000 years later we STILL have a HUGE problem believing that God’s grace is not somehow linked to us doing something GOOD or not doing something BAD… This week, Jesus makes that EXACT SAME point again, but THIS week makes it even MORE dramatically.  

Look carefully at the presumed primary recipient of God’s grace in this story.  He’s much worse than simply very ill like last week’s sick slave… This guy is dead.  He’s shuffled off the mortal coil, he’s pulled the pin, he’s bit the dust, he’s kicked the bucket, he’s pushin’ up daisies, he’s absolute gravy, he’s brown bread… which rhymes with DEAD (those are for our visitors from London), he’s taking a dirt nap… in short… he’s dead.  

So, in his current delicate condition of being… well, dead, what has he DONE to get Jesus to raise him from the dead?  NOTHING!  He just lies there being, not just MOSTLY dead, but the kind of dead where even Miracle Max says the only thing left to do is to look through his pockets for loose change.  So being all-the-way-dead, he can do NOTHING to get Jesus to act.  

Which all sounds pretty bad, but wait, it’s actually much, much worse than that.  You see, in practical terms there were two dead people at this funeral… not just one.  The son had bought the farm for sure, but without a living male relative in that day and time, his mother had no legal status, no means for income or support, could not legally own a home and would be completely dependent on the charity of others.  And in a time where almost everyone continually struggled to even feed their own families, her prospects were grim.  She was walking and leading the funeral procession but in a very real way, she was just about as dead as her son.  She too, though, did absolutely NOTHING… nothing “right” and nothing “wrong”… she too did NOTHING to get Jesus to act.  

So if neither the son nor the mother did anything to “deserve” Jesus to act… heck they didn’t even NOTICE that Jesus was there let alone ASK Jesus to do something… so WHY did Jesus do what he did?  The story says that when Jesus saw her, he had COMPASSION for her, but that’s way too tame a translation for what really happened.  A more raw translation is “seeing the woman weeping, Jesus was emotionally gut-punched in the bread basket... HARD.”  The Greek root word for “compassion,” you see is the word for bowels… for guts, because for folks back then, the guts were where pity, compassion and love lived.  

Jesus felt her pain in his guts… deep, deep down in the core of his being, Jesus felt her pain, her loss, her hopelessness and it twisted his guts into a knot.  In short, SHE did nothing.  She, like her son, COULDN’T do anything.  Her son was dead and she was basically the walking dead.  What happened was simply and only that Jesus loved her.  Not for what she had done or not done, but because the God who loved each and every one of us into being, continues to love us... feels our joys and pain, our losses and triumphs, our hopelessness and our hope, our worry and our courage, and feels it all deep down in the pit of God’s Divine guts and LOVES us.  THAT Divine love has the power to dry our most desperate tears.  THAT Divine love has the power to change the world.  THAT Divine love even has the power to raise the dead.  

LOVE is the way of our God.  Not deserving and undeserving.  Not earning or not earning.  Not being worthy or unworthy.  LOVE.  JUST LOVE.  Just deep down in the pit of the stomach, gut wrenching, never ending, unconditional, unlimited and perfect Divine LOVE for you… for you… YES YOU and for all of creation.  Amen.