Wednesday, August 24, 2016


The Holy Gospel According to St. Luke the 14th Chapter

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 

When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, 'Give this person your place,' and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, 'Friend, move up higher'; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

He said also to the one who had invited him, "When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."

He told them a parable.  He just HAD to go and make it a parable!  Because if it wasn’t a parable, it would just be a good lesson in etiquette, like Emily Post, but Jesus made it a parable.  So the lunch isn’t just about lunch and the wedding banquet isn’t just about choosing chicken or fish.

Jesus used parables to tell folks things that he knew would be hard for them to hear.  His parables always started with something familiar, like lunch.  But then they always ended up more challenging the deeper into them you went.  So Jesus starts this parable with just a light lunch, set out in the shade of a backyard tree.  But then, Jesus makes lunch harder by insisting on inviting the poor, crippled, lame and blind.  But his parable doesn’t stop there either, because Jesus isn’t just asking us to find someone who is hungry and make them a one-off meal. Jesus is calling us into deeper, forever relationships with every sort of people.  Where the world says NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard)  Jesus says LIMBY (Lunch in My Back Yard)!  You see, it’s building a thriving community including ALL people that's Jesus’s deeper concern, in other words, Jesus is talking about more than just lunch, he’s talking about the Kingdom of God.

There’s a flip side to this parable which may be even harder to hear.  That happens when it’s YOU or ME who are the ones hurting or in need, because when WE are the ones in need, Jesus calls US to set aside our pride and allow ourselves to be the ones drawn more deeply into a caring community and not try to go it alone.  It’s hard to throw a lunch for folks who are different or facing life’s challenges, it much harder to admit that I am the one facing life’s challenges and accept an invitation to lunch and to more than lunch. 

So lunch turned out to not be just about lunch.  Now dinner isn’t just any dinner, but a banquet and not just any banquet but a wedding banquet!  And when Jesus talks Wedding Banquets he’s ABSOLUTELY talking about the Kingdom of God and remember, when he talks about the Kingdom of God, he’s not talking about the sweet by and by… he’s talking about this world, our everyday, figure out dinner, commute to work, pick up kids, do homework world and he’s talking about changing our everyday world so it works God’s way, not the way it works now.

While the world’s way of living often leads to great disparities, with a few having much and many not having nearly enough, God’s Kingdom is our world transformed so that it works like an all inclusive, great banquet, like the prophet Isaiah describes... a feast with meats rich with marrow and well aged wines strained clear... a world where everyone has enough.

But even with all of that, Jesus still isn’t quite finished making things all parable-ly and difficult. Because now Jesus says, “When YOU give a banquet.”  Yup, it gets harder, because this is OUR banquet to give... OUR world to change.  Not alone.  Not without God, but together as God’s people we are called, as Martin Luther King said, to "bend the arc of the moral universe slowly toward justice."  That task often seems daunting but I find a quote from the Talmud helpful (The Talmud is a sort of Jewish commentary on the Torah), it says, “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly, now.  Love mercy, now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”  

Jesus is calling us to host much more than just lunch and throw more than just a regular banquet.  Jesus is calling us to create a space right in the midst of our every day lives for ALL people… right here in our own back yard… to build a place for ALL people into our community and work on building that community into the Kingdom of God.

Our congregation is actually a beautiful example of a group of regular folks trying our best to do much more than just lunch.  One of this congregation’s Spiritual gifts is making a place, right here in our own backyard, for all sorts of people.  But we aren’t alone in this work.  God has given us partners in the work of throwing this banquet and building the Kingdom.

Our work in this community really is like a Divine pot-luck.  While we bring the correct liturgically-colored Jell-O, our Catholic friends brings the chicken, the Unitarians bring the brownies, the Synagogue brings a tofu casserole, the United Way brings burgers, the Muslim community brings falafel, Bread of Life brings the beans and all our other friends bring the cookies and cakes.  Together, in spite of many challenges, we really are helping to prepare a banquet, right here in our own back yard!  May we continue to do just that!  May we continue to set a place at the table for ALL people and may we continue to work with our friends and neighbors until one day, we all look up from preparing this feast and realize that while we were busy trying to get the Jello out of the mold, God went ahead and transformed our little pot-luck fully into the Kingdom of God.  Amen. 

Friday, August 19, 2016

Don't Forget The Arms

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

Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

When you look at a cross… there’s one right there… When you look at a cross there are two parts to it.  There’s the… sorry for the technical lingo here… there's the uppy-downy part and then there's the crossy-crossy part.  Sorry about the crazy theological terms but, now you know.  

The thing is, that without BOTH parts, it’s not a cross.  Without the uppy-downy part it’s just a board and without the crossy-crossy part it’s just a post.  You need BOTH to make it complete.  THAT’s the essence of the lessons for today.  God created us BOTH to love God (the uppy-downy part) and to love our neighbors (the crossy-crossy part).  Unfortunately, since we’re human,  we mess up the uppy-downy part a lot and all to often forget Jesus's arms reaching out to the world on the crossy-crossy part as well.

Today’s first lesson has Isaiah upset with the folks at the Temple.  An hour at the Temple, some loose change in the plate and they were done, ready for the blessing they thought they had earned to plop out of some Temple vending machine… good luck, a clean conscience or a sweet business deal.  Isaiah let them know they weren’t done.  Trying to manipulate God isn’t how the uppy-downy part works and lying and taking advantage of the poor and ignoring the needs of your neighbor during the week isn’t how the crossy-crossy part works either!  

But this wasn’t just a problem in the time of the prophets.  In the Gospel, the leader of the synagogue yells at Jesus for healing a woman on the Sabbath when no work is supposed to be done.  Jesus reminds him here that caring for our neighbors… being faithful to the crossy-crossy part… is JUST as important as being connected to God in the uppy-downy part of our lives.  

But this isn't just a Bible times problem either.  This week I passed a church sign and it said, “The cross is God’s compass that points to heaven.”  A compass needle isn’t a cross.  It’s a post.  And this message ends up focusing only on the uppy-downy and completely ignores our neighbors.  It’s a “me and my Jesus” sort of spiritual faith that tragically forgets that Christ is most powerfully present, not in some spiritual, sweet by and by to come, but in the very physical elements of bread and wine and in Christ's arms on the cross reaching out to embrace the least, last and lost of our flesh and blood neighbors right here on earth.  

But this isn't just someone else’s problem either.  It’s also our problem.  When we decide to go to church on a Sunday, do we decide to go because of what WE need or expect to get from or give to God, or do we also come to church because someone here needs us?  When we talk about our liturgy, hymns, studies and programs, do we focus on what we want… or do we shape what we do here for our neighbor… for the person who sits on the other side of the aisle?

And when the plate comes around or we set up our online giving, do we give only as a spiritual response to God, or do we also give because… that person in the seat in front of you needs a physical, earthly, material seat to sit in?  Do we give also because that person right there needs a physical, real and earthly roof over this building with heat and light in which to come together with a bulletin, music, bread and wine and all the rest?

Giving because God has first given us all that we have… the earth and air and water and life itself… giving generously in a thankful response to all that God has generously done for us is absolutely correct, but it’s only half the story.  Giving also must include the crossy-crossy parts of caring for our neighbors in the nitty-gritty, bill paying reality of our earthly lives together.  

The uppy-downy part of our lives has been taken care of in the life, death and resurrection of Christ.  You and me… we’ll do life some days mostly alright and some days not so alright and every day as a mix of the two.  But no matter how we do life, God in Christ has made us right in that uppy-downy dimension.  No matter how that dimension of life goes, the consequence is God's unwavering love and eternal life!  

But the real life consequences of the crossy-crossy dimension are just as real.  When we feed our neighbors they get full and when we don’t, they go hungry.  When we show up, we’re available… available to share each others joys and burdens.  When we don’t show up we just aren’t.  When we give enough to keep the lights on and the heat going and the payroll paid, we have a place for us to be fed and cared for, a place to share our joys and sorrows and a base to reach out beyond our walls and work at changing the world.  If we don’t give enough, there’s a real-world, crossy-crossy, consequence to that as well.  

Both Isaiah and Jesus valued deeply the uppy-downy relationship we have with God.  Both Isaiah and Jesus also knew however, that the uppy-downy part was just that… a part of the whole God created us to be and for us to live into that wholeness, we must never forget the crossy-crossy parts and reach out our arms, like Christ on the cross, to care for the practical, earthly needs of our neighbors… the ones across the world, the ones in our city and the ones sitting in the chairs around us now.  May we always look at the cross and remember BOTH.  Amen. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Toasters and Burning Fire

The Holy Gospel According to St. Luke, the 12th Chapter

Jesus said, "I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!  I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!  Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!  From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided:
  father against son
    and son against father,
  mother against daughter
    and daughter against mother,
  mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
    and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."

He also said to the crowds, "When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, 'It is going to rain'; and so it happens.   And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, 'There will be scorching heat'; and it happens.  You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

The new pastor went to visit Elmer Snodgrass... the fourth.  Yes, that means there were indeed three Elmer Snodgrass’ before him.  Elmer’s house was almost normal.  I say “almost” because in the living room was a couch, chairs and pictures… but there was also a toaster.  A toaster... silver with two slots, sitting on the end table… a light bulb in each slot.

The pastor sat down and Elmer reached over and pushed down the lever on the toaster... nothing happened.  Elmer gave the toaster the look of a lamenting, long endured, disappointment.  Now, an experienced pastor would not have said anything here, knowing that some things are best left as mysteries.  But this pastor was young and that toaster was just a bit too tempting.

“Elmer,” the pastor said, “why are there light bulbs screwed into that toaster.”  “Well,” said Elmer with a nostalgic air, “When electricity came to town no one really had any idea what to do with it.  It was strange.  Didn’t come with instructions.  The lines were strung and electric stuff came on the train and we just had to figure it out.  My great grandfather though, he KNEW how it worked!  "Light bulbs go in the slots!" he said, “It’s clear as day!”  It didn’t work but he kept trying until he died.”

“He tried all his life?” asked the young pastor.  “Yup.  Of course, he died later that evening.  You see, he wanted to read in the bathtub, so he set the toaster with the light bulbs on the side of the tub for light.  And well...  You know my great grandpa is a town hero because of that.  No one else has ever taken bath with a toaster after that…saved countless lives.  Grandpa took up the cause from there.  He passed on the mission to my father and now it’s down to me.  Lots of people say it will never work, but it’s the Snodgrass tradition!  Every Snodgrass has sworn to keep trying until we get a toaster to light up a light bulb.”  

“So, you’ve tried to get light by screwing a light bulb into a toaster for four generations?” asked the pastor.  “Yup, and nobody’s gonna tell me that light bulbs don’t go into toasters!  You aren’t, are you?” asked Elmer.  “No” said the pastor.  Elmer quickly added, “But I won’t take a bath with a toaster…I’m not stupid.”  “Right,” said the pastor… “good idea.”

Two morals to this story.  Don't bathe with a toaster, AND, like the Gospel story says...  If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.  It’s not that the Snodgrass family needed to try HARDER to get light by screwing light bulbs into toasters, (after all he and his family had been trying that for four generations!).  What they needed to do was to try something entirely different!  But for Elmer, the toaster-light was more than just his personal quirk.  It was tradition!  It was what he’d always done and it connected him with his family through the generations and no one was going to tell him that things just didn’t work that way.  He would never go against his family that way.

That’s what Jesus meant by telling us that he brought division and not peace.  You see, Jesus brought with him a new idea, that God was really a God of grace and love and justice.  More interested in how we took care of the people who were the least and the lost and the last in our society than anything else.  Jesus challenged the political and religious powers of his day and insisted that God was not a God of vindictiveness and revenge that needed to be pacified with sacrifice, but that God was calling us to change the world.  To change the world from a human empire, where a few had a lot and a lot didn’t have enough, INTO the Kingdom of God where no one had too much but everyone had enough… enough dignity, worth, purpose, food, shelter and all the rest.  

Of course to the people with all the power and wealth in Jesus’ day, his idea was a threat.  It was different and for folks who are comfortable with how things are, different is bad.   Jesus knew that if someone from a family started following him and his teachings about God, then there would be trouble in that family. He knew that, but Jesus also knew that “if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.”

Two thousand years later, it’s still true.  Changing the world... heck, even trying to change just a tiny city block of it, can create division and burn like that “fire on the earth” Jesus talked about.  Our challenge is to push through the burn that comes with changing the world to be more like God's Kingdom.  It's a challenge, both when it burns others and even more when that needed change burns us, because the truth is, God is always doing a new thing and for “God’s will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven” some things just need to change.  

My prayer is that we can trust God’s love, grace and abundance enough to honestly look at everything we do… all of our traditions… everything… and honestly ask, “why do we do this?”  “Does this move us and the world closer to God’s Kingdom? Or, for whatever reason, does it work now more like a lightbulb in a toaster?”  Then, may we have the courage to brave the fire, and change what needs to be changed, keep what still works and, as the Serenity prayer says, be given the wisdom to know the difference.  Amen.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Snakes and Their Broken Down Story

The Holy Gospel According to St. Luke, the 12th Chapter

Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 

Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. 

Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. 

But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

There’s a story being told these days.  It’s not a new story.  Actually it’s a very, very old story.  It’s a story that claims that the world we live in is a VERY scary place.  So very horribly frightening in fact, that we should lock our doors, build walls, gather weapons, align ourselves with the strongest, the biggest, the most powerful.  We should give the powerful more power and hunker down in fear!  The story goes, that because this is such a terrifying world, we need to look out for “US” and watch out for “THEM”!  Close “US” in and lock “THEM” out!  If you’re “IN” with us, then you are one of the faithful, a patriot, the good, but if you’re “OUT” then you are one of the hordes of demons, a taker, a terrorist… evil.  

It’s a story that claims that EVERYTHING of worth and value in our world is in very, very short supply.  What there is, needs to be gathered and stockpiled and guarded and those who do that well aren’t greedy, but to be admired as successful.  Safety, security, freedom, jobs, food, wealth, power, health, life… EVERYTHING is in desperately, horribly short supply and “THEY” are coming to pillage it and take it. 

It’s a story that demands no questions are asked of it.  A story that insists that loyalties never waver from it, nor questions it’s means and methods, even in the light of facts and figures that point to something else… PARTICULARLY when the facts and figures point to something else!  

That is the story that is being told again in our world.  Like I said, it’s an old, old story.  I’m sure you’ve heard it lately and if you have just a bit of a memory for things of the past or have read just a bit about the past, you’ll recognize that you’ve heard this story before as well.  It’s a story that first was told by a snake in a garden.  “You don’t have enough!” said the snake.  “But we have everything we need here in abundance” said the people.  “But you aren’t like God” said the snake.  “The snake is right, we don’t have enough!”  said the people, “We too must be gods!” said the people.  It’s a very, very, very old story.  Nearly the oldest of stories that are told.  NEARLY… the oldest.  But.  But.  It’s not our story.  It is NOT… OUR… STORY.

OUR story begins like the Gospel lesson for today began… BE NOT AFRAID, little flock, for it is your Father’s GOOD PLEASURE to GIVE you the kingdom!  In OUR story, fear is not the common currency in the land!  In OUR story we trade in LOVE and HOPE, not fear!  In our story scarcity isn’t real!  In our story it is God’s GOOD PLEASURE to give us the kingdom… the WHOLE, EXPANSIVE, INEXHAUSTIBLE, ABUNDANT KINGDOM… as a GIFT!  Simply and only because giving it brings God pleasure!  And in OUR story, this is not a gift given to just a perfectly, faithful few.  In OUR story, the abundance of the Kingdom is a gift given to saints and sinners, tax collectors and flax collectors, warriors and widows, campers and kings, politicians and prophets, fisher folk and folk that smell worse than week old fish.  

In OUR story, love is stronger than hate, hope more powerful than fear, humility more enviable than hubris and generosity more admired than greed.  OUR story is that our little flock… Our little flock which encompasses all of humanity and all of creation… Our little flock has no need to live in fear, because the God who loved all of it… all of it… ALL of it into being in the first place (which, by the way, is THE oldest story) is pleased, well pleased in fact, to continue to shower all of creation with that same unlimited, unbounded, unimpeded love until the day we all open our eyes and finally see that story… God’s story, OUR story…is THE TRUE STORY!  That the Kingdom is ours in all it’s abundant, grace and love-filled glory.  So, do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.  In fact, come to the table today and you will taste that truth again! 

The rest of today’s Gospel lesson (in fact the rest of creation) lives under that overarching umbrella of the Gift of the Kingdom, given with God’s good pleasure.  The rest of today’s Gospel story, which I’ll let you study on your own, is some good advice on how to wait and live and remain hopeful in the midst of the craziness of a world that has once again been mesmerized by that snake’s same old, tired, broken, fearful, hopeless, busted up and broken down, sad, and lying story told by one snake charmer after another all through history.  Pay that story no mind!  It’s not our story!  Instead, live unafraid, embraced in the true story that the kingdom is ours simply because it gives God pleasure for us to live nestled in the Kingdom of God's loving arms.  Amen.