Sunday, November 27, 2016

Keep Awake!

The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, the 24th Chapter
“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 
Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

This summer, before I went on vacation, I went to see Kristen.  Kristen is a friend and a spiritual director, for lack of a better and less trendy, official title.  My goal in that visit was to find a way to hand off my worries to God… personal worries, church worries, worries about the country and worries about the world.  I wanted to hand them all off to God for the next three weeks.  Normally, you see, I do all that worrying FOR God, but for those three weeks of vacation, I thought that if I asked nicely, God might do that worrying for me and let me have a break.  

Now, the technical, churchy, religious word for me believing that I need to take on all of the world’s, the church’s and life’s worries is… well, SIN… it’s not trusting God to be God.  The secular, worldly word for me trying to take on all of the world’s, the church’s and life’s worries is… REALLY DUMB and I know that’s two words but it’s SO “dumb” it earns a free bonus adjective.  So, letting go of that worry wasn’t just a way to return to faithfulness… it was also just, plain smart.  

So, with Kristin’s guidance, prayer, some meditation and reflection I asked God to forgive my lack of trust and help me to genuinely let go of those worries… but just for the next three weeks.  Now, I’m not one who normally hears God out loud with my ears, but in that moment, I think I pretty clearly heard God laughing at me.  Not in a mean way, but in a way that basically said, Erik, I love you, and because I love you, I sure wish you wouldn’t keep trying to make your life harder than it has to be.  God was telling me, “I’d be glad to take on the world’s worries for the next three weeks, and just as a reminder, I handle the whole world just fine whether you’re worrying about it or not.”    

I knew it was true.  I know it IS true now.  But like St. Paul, I seem to do the things I know I shouldn’t do, like worry about things I can’t control, and don’t do the stuff I should do, like trust that God can fully handle being God without my help.  Continually, though it seems that I fall short of that glory.

It appears, however, that I’m not alone in this problem.  A lot earlier on in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus tells us we really shouldn’t worry any more than the wildflowers in the fields worry.  Then here in today’s Gospel Jesus tells us that NO ONE, not even Jesus, can know about Jesus’ return.  Jesus reminds his disciples and you and me that when it comes to the universe and all of creation, God really is in control… and that God, believe it or not, can AND DOES take care of ALL things and because of that, we really don’t have to worry.  

We really don’t need to worry.  God really does, like the old Sunday School song says, have the whole world in His hands.  So, being paralyzed by worry, certainly isn’t a faithful way to live.  BUT, there’s alway a “but” isn’t there… but the other extreme of checking out from the needs of those around us and sticking our fingers in our ears and shouting lalalalalalala while our neighbors are in pain isn’t faithful either.  There is, however, a faithful, middle way here between pointless worry and irresponsible escape and that is the goal of Advent.  It’s a time to focus and practice living in a way that holds the pains of the world around us in one hand, but balances that by holding the infinite power of God’s promise to make all things new, firmly in the other.  

THAT’S what it means to KEEP AWAKE.  Being AWAKE, is that middle path between being crushed into inaction by the weight of the world’s troubles and pretending the world is trouble free.  Being AWAKE is BOTH being honestly aware of the world around you… aware that there are things like injustice, systematic racism, misogyny, and hate AND ALSO not allowing that reality to crush you to a point where you can no longer allow Christ’s light to shine through you and make a difference in the world.  

Advent is a time in the church year set aside to focus on and practice that balance.  On this early end of Advent we hear stories that make us AWAKE again to the realities that life is unpredictable, often unfair and much too often, painful as well.  On this end of Advent we are made AWAKE to the realities that you can be at work one day with your friend and in the blink of an eye that friend has died and your everyday reality has been instantly changed forever.  But then, on the other end of Advent, we hear stories that remind us that God's Light shines in the darkness and there is NO sort of darkness that can overcome it!  On the other end of Advent we have the truth of Immanuel… God with us… and the unfolding story of a God whose love for us can’t be stopped by anything or anyone… not even death.  

So, for this Advent, let’s help one another practice being AWAKE… constantly aware of BOTH the pains of the world, but ALSO aware and buoyed up by the power of God in Christ, continually at work bringing peace, light and life into the world.  Advent reminds us that you and I… we are called deeply into BOTH.  Each week we receive the Light of the World in, with and under the bread and wine and each week we are called to bring the light we have received out into the world and let it shine through the cracks of our imperfect lives, into the lives of those who cross our paths.  When we allow ourselves to be crushed by the weight of the world’s troubles, we close in on ourselves and the light we carry has trouble shining out BUT ALSO if we try to escape the world’s troubles and literally or figuratively pull the covers over our heads and hide away, it’s equally difficult for the light we’ve received to shine into the world.  

So spend this Advent practicing being AWAKE.  AWAKE to the needs around you AND AWAKE to God in Christ, present and at work in the world.  AWAKE, we can faithfully make a difference in the world around us where we can AND at the same time be at peace that God is truly in control and in God’s time and in God’s ways, God will complete God’s work of making all things new.  Amen. 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Jesus, Re-Member Me

The Holy Gospel According to St. Luke the 23rd Chapter

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

The thief on the cross (who wasn't a thief) said to Jesus “remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”  The other man didn’t ask Jesus to remember him.  He asked Jesus to get him down… return him to a time when he wasn’t dying on a cross… back to a time when things hadn’t gone wrong.  Back to a time when he thought life had been better.  But going back to some nostalgic past, no matter how beautiful and wonderful it might have been isn’t the way to Paradise.

The thief on the cross (who wasn’t a thief) he, on the other hand, wanted Jesus to “Remember” him.  But he didn’t need Jesus to just think of him fondly in the sweet by and by.  He needed Jesus to RE-Member him… to put his life back together.  Now, I know he hadn’t been physically dismembered, but he was being cut off in almost every other way.  He was being cut off from his family, from his community, from his faith, from his dignity, from his self-worth, from his identity, from his hopes, from his dreams, from his future and of course from his life.  

So, that thief on the cross (who wasn’t a thief) he needed the pieces of his horribly Dis-membered life to be PUT BACK TOGETHER, to be made whole again and he believed Jesus had the power to do that and when Jesus told him, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” Jesus didn’t just mean he’d have fond memories of this guy while he sat on his throne in glory.  Jesus meant that THROUGH death was the Paradise of being RE-membered.  The Paradise of being made whole again in every way he could imagine and in ways he could never imagine as well.

The other man couldn’t believe Paradise lay ahead.  He bargained to recapture the past, to go back and string together a few more days.  The thief on the cross (who wasn’t a thief), by the gift of the Holy Spirit, believed that the only place he would find wholeness and life lay ahead, THROUGH the uncertainty of the future, THROUGH the uncertainty of death and into Paradise. 

You and I will never be broken on a cross like those two men, but life breaks us into pieces just the same… life dis-members us in one way or another all the time.  We are cut off from life with a spouse, cut off from a career, cut off from children or relatives or friends or health or hopes or dreams or you name it and because we too have been DIS-membered in our lives, we too need more than just Jesus’s kind thoughts... All of us, in one way or another, need RE-membering!  

All of us who have been broken in one way or another… and that’s all of us… NEED to be made whole again.  The Good News of today is that we have been promised exactly that!  The hard part is believing that it is THROUGH that pain… THROUGH that death… THROUGH that dismemberment… that the infinite and unconditional love of God in Christ will RE-member us.  It WILL be different… it will never be like it was, but we will be RE-membered and that, we are promised, is Paradise!

The promise of being put back together after life has torn us apart… that’s grace.  But there’s more to this than a powerful promise given to us as individuals.  Together WE are the Body of Christ, not only a gathering of broken individuals but also, TOGETHER, we are the Body of Christ called to be RE-member-ers of the broken as well.  Together we are called to bring healing to the dis-membered gathered here today… together we are called to RE-member a world that seems increasingly torn apart… We are not only recipients of the promise that we will be RE-Membered but we are also called to be RE-member-ers too.  

As disciples of Jesus, who is the original “RE-Member-er,” we are called to do more for those around us who are hurting than to simply think fondly of them from time to time.  Our call is to open our eyes and see those around us who have been dis-membered… to care for those who are hurting.  We are certainly called to remember them in the prayers of our hearts and minds but it can’t stop there.  We are being called to live out those prayers with our faithful presence, never doubting the power of being here.  To live out those prayers with generous giving, to help provide this place for the broken to gather.  To live out those prayers, sharing the skills we have been given and RE-Membering the broken; helping one another gather up the pieces of fractured lives when they have been torn apart and helping to put those lives back together... to help to make them whole.

The thief on the cross (who wasn’t a thief) asked Jesus to RE-member him.  The people around you here in this sanctuary, when they experience the hurts, losses and pains that are a part of life… they need YOU… each of you to RE-member them.  Our community too, when it’s broken and hurt, it looks to us as The Body of Christ and needs us as a congregation to work to RE-member them as well.  With our prayers we remember.  With our hearts and hands we remember.  With our generous giving that provides this place to gather and worship and care for each other and our community… we remember.  

Jesus, RE-Member me when you come into your Kingdom… Jesus, RE-Member us when you come into your Kingdom… Jesus, RE-Member our city, our country and our world when you come into your Kingdom and Jesus, feed us now at your Table and through your broken body, made whole in the resurrection, give us your light and strength and wisdom to be RE-Member-ers in your name and guide us to show the world a glimpse of Paradise.  Amen.  

Friday, November 11, 2016

Waiting the Jesus Way

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

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, Jesus said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them. “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.

(2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 is also referenced below as well)

What’s going to happen now?  What do we do now?  No matter how you voted, what’s next is unknown.  So, what do we do now?  Today’s lessons have the key.  Today, following the election, just like every other day following every other situation and event that has ever happened or ever will happen… we are called to wait.  

When we hear people shout “The end is near!” we are called to wait.  When folks talk about and threaten and sow fear about wars and insurrections, we’re called to wait.  When earthquakes happen and people go hungry and when all the signs, whether they are real and accurate signs or false and fear filled signs… when those signs point to destruction and terrible times ahead.  We are called to wait.  

Now, the danger in hearing that we are called every day to wait, even while the world around might be falling apart or being torn apart, is that we will make a mistake in HOW we are called to wait.  Making that mistake is what some of the people in the second lesson were doing, but Paul put them straight. 

The Apostle Paul believed that Jesus would return… which we still believe… but Paul believed it would happen, before dinner-ish.  Every day he woke up, he HONESTLY expected Jesus to be standing there with a cup of coffee and a smile for him!  Paul passed that, “gonna happen literally any minute”, expectation on to the people in Thesolonika and some of the people took that so much to heart that they stopped EVERYTHING they were doing… they stopped working, stopped caring for their families, stopped caring for their neighbors… they stopped LIVING… and all they did was lay on the church lawn, look up to the sky and wait for Jesus.  They thought that was faithful waiting.  After all, they would see Jesus first and not be caught off guard.  

That lesson isn’t a justification for not feeding the hungry.  It’s an instruction on how we are to wait.  You see, you don’t get called before governors or kings, heck, you don’t even get called before mayors and city councils for just lying on the front lawn of the church, looking up at the sky and dreaming about Jesus returning.  You get called before governors and kings, mayors and city councils because of what you’ve been actively doing in Jesus’ name… because you’ve been waiting for Jesus by ACTIVELY and insistently living the Jesus Way out in the world!  It’s the ACTIVE loving of God, by insisting on the dignity of the least, lost and last in our community that gets you in trouble.  It’s ACTIVELY loving of our neighbors, feeding the hungry and giving the cold a warm place to stay that gives the world fits.  

Waiting as Jesus and Paul have called us to wait means living as Jesus lived, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, housing the homeless, caring for the widow and orphan and it is doing that work with endurance… doing what we can… not more than we can… but what we can, and doing it today and tomorrow and the next day and the next… making what often feels like only a tiny, and often almost imperceivable difference, but making that difference with endurance over a lifetime.  It means working on poverty, homelessness, hunger and all the rest like the Colorado River works at creating the Grand Canyon.  Jesus reminds us that living the Jesus way requires endurance.  The Jesus way is not a sprint.  It’s a series of marathons, run by a multitude of runners each handing the baton on to the next.  

None of us know what’s going to happen next.  Not really.  Not in our country, our world or our church.  No one can know that for sure.  But I DO KNOW how we are called to wait for God to complete the work begun in Christ’s life, death and resurrection.  I DO KNOW how we are called to wait for God to finish making all things new.  We are called to wait the Jesus Way… actively doing what we can to share God’s love with the people around us.  We are called to wait the Jesus Way… seeing Christ in our neighbors when others see “foreigners” or “enemies” or “thugs” and “terrorists”.  We are called to wait the Jesus way, remembering that sprinting a marathon or trying to dig the Grand Canyon in a day or single handedly attempting to save the planet, or even just Augusta, or even just our church, is not a recipe for faithfulness.  

We are called to wait the Jesus way, taking on a few things that make a difference, doing them well, and setting a manageable pace so that we can run those races with endurance for as long as it takes.  It means handing off the baton to the next runner before we fall on the track in exhaustion.  Because the race we are running… may take as long as it took for the Colorado River to make the Grand Canyon… and remember, the Colorado river isn’t done making that canyon yet either!  

Regardless of who occupies the positions of power in Washington, in Augusta or even here in this church, each of us is called, and each of us has all that we need to wait the Jesus Way.  We have God and we have each other.  So, find the tiny ways you can make a difference.  Try not to become paralyzed by the enormity of what needs to be done.  Look for little glimpses of joy each day, not for the day that the whole world suddenly becomes joyful.  Give a smile as you give with generosity what you have to give and then, when you've given all you have to give, remember you still have your smile.  

So what are we going to do now?  The same thing God has asked us to do every day throughout all of history.  We’re going to wait.  Wait by putting one foot in front of the other, one day at a time, making whatever difference we can make by loving God and loving our neighbor every step of the way.  What are we going to do now?  We’re going to wait, but let’s remember that we have been called to wait the Jesus Way.  Amen.  

Friday, November 4, 2016

Blessed are the Losers

The Holy Gospel According to St. Luke, the 6th Chapter

Then Jesus looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Everything we hear these days is about winners and losers.  From the world series, to the pipeline battle to this never-ending election, it’s all about winners and losers and EVERYONE wants to be a winner, often at any cost.  But this winner/loser obsession isn’t just something we hear on TV.  Even in Chipotle the other day, there was a sign on the Sprite valve on the fountain machine telling everyone that today Sprite was not a winner!  

The thing is, for most of the world not being a winner is a terrible thing.  The only thing worse than not being a winner is being a loser!  But here in Luke’s Gospel the “normal” world is turned upside down in a terribly inescapable way as Jesus declares… Blessed are you who are poor.  Not, blessed are you who are poor in SPIRIT, like in Matthew’s Gospel.  This is just straight up POOR, which is clearly not a winning position.  But Jesus isn’t done.  He goes on to tell the world… Blessed are you who are hungry.  Not, blessed are you who hunger and thirst for righteousness like in Matthew’s Gospel.  Clearly here in Luke’s Gospel, this isn’t some sort of spiritual poverty Jesus is talking about.  This is not-enough-money-to-pay-the-rent, poverty.  This isn’t a spiritual hunger Jesus is calling blessed.  This is a growling-stomach-that-doesn’t-know-where-to-find-a-meal kind of hunger that Jesus is calling blessed. 

But how can this be!?  Twenty nine hours a day for every single day for over a year now, on TV and online and on the radio and on signs we have heard relentlessly until our ears are ready to bleed, how important, essential, critical for the survival of the whole universe it is to be a winner and avoid by any and every means necessary, being a loser!  And then today, into ALL of that hoopla, drama and shouting about winning, Jesus calmly and quietly this morning proclaims, “Blessed are the losers” and as if THAT wasn’t already too much to process he adds, as a footnote, “Woe to the winners.”  

We like Matthew’s version of these beatitudes because we can spiritualize the losing and THAT lets us more easily fool ourselves into believing WE can make ourselves winners.  In Matthew, we’re not poor, we’re just poor in spirit and so, if we do just a little more prayer we’ll be back to spiritual winning before we know it!  In Matthew we’re not physically hungry, we’re not lined up at the food bank, we’re just hungry for righteousness and so with just a bit more effort, we’ll make ourselves righteous in no time at all!  

Luke’s version doesn’t allow for us to fool ourselves like that.  Luke’s version INSISTS that it is precisely those who KNOW… who KNOW at their core, through pain, shame, hard knocks and devastating loss that they CAN’T do EVEN the most basic things on their own, who are blessed in God’s Kingdom!  Luke’s version demands that we listen to Jesus and really, really hear that it is the broken, the hungry, the poor, the weeping, the losers who have come to understand… who are blessed to understand… that there is NOTHING we can accomplish on our own, apart from God.  They KNOW, “I can not by my own reason or strength believe” or for that matter even eat or find shelter or do ANYTHING on their own.  They KNOW that it’s ONLY through a gift from God that they have life, find a bed and have a meal to eat.  They KNOW we are ALL losers without God’s infinite and unconditional love and grace.  

Being poor, being hungry, being broken, being a loser are all held up by our world as the most horrible things you could ever be these days, but Jesus knew that being broken, even though it was painful and terrible was ALSO the window through which we might better see God at work in our lives.  Neither Jesus, nor anyone else would WISH poverty, hunger, grief or brokenness on another person, but Jesus knew that WHEN those things came into our lives… and because we're human, they do in one way or another… we would be blessed with an opportunity to see God’s love at work in our lives in ways that the rich, the full and the winners never would.  

In Japan, there is an art form called Kintsugi.  In this art form, ceramic bowls that have become broken are repaired in a unique way.  The artist doesn’t attempt to hide the cracks, but instead draws the eye to them by repairing them with gold.  The repaired bowls are then even more valuable than when they were unbroken.  Both the expense of the gold, but also the new beauty of the bowl, contribute to the bowl’s greater value.  

Jesus says, “Blessed are the cracked bowls in our community.”  “Blessed are those who are broken.”  “Blessed are the losers.”  For through their poverty, hunger, cracks and brokenness they have been blessed with the opportunity to glimpse God’s grace in ways that the rich, the full, and those who insist they are flawless will never know.  And blessed are we, when we stop trying to look away or worse yet, throw away those who are cracked and broken in our community.  Because it is THROUGH their cracks and brokenness AND our own cracks and brokenness, that we will see that God's precious love and compassion has made us more valuable than we could have ever been if we had just been left to ourselves to suffer through this life as flawless, perfect, well fed and wealthy winners.  Amen.