Thursday, January 26, 2017

Step Into Your Core

The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, the 5th Chapter

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

When I worked for Coca-Cola, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, the company sent me to a Steven Covey, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, seminar.  As part of that seminar we created an inventory of the things we valued most.  The idea being, that highly effective people spent most of their time and energy, and worked the hardest on things they valued most.  I suspect, the company thought we would value our careers the most, so we would naturally conclude we should spend most of our time and energy at One Coca-Cola Plaza, “building shareholder value” and “increasing sales volume” with even more dedication and vigor.  

I’m guessing they didn’t expect a young food scientist to conclude that what he valued more than his career was his new family, God, and things like justice and kindness… the values he learned in the church.  They probably also didn’t expect their seminar would help him hatch a hair-brained scheme (back when he had hair) to not just THINK about those things he valued, but to take an ACTIVE, tangible, physical STEP in their direction and become a pastor.  

Coca-Cola, wasn’t exactly on track with what I valued, but their guy, Steven Covey, wasn’t wrong…  when people step toward the things they value most, their lives are more stable, more peaceful... more effective.  The reality is, things are always swirling and changing in our lives… Careers change, companies change, locations change, presidents change, economies change, institutions change… even light bulbs change… but those things at our CORE… THOSE things don’t change, and taking a physical, tangible step TOWARD those core things, no matter how big or small the step, calms the storm and brings us peace.  

Today we heard two well known expressions of what we, as people of God, value at our CORE.  “Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God”… THAT is at our core.   Humility, vulnerability, gentleness, empathy, peacemaking, kindness, compassion, steadfastness and resiliency… THAT is at our CORE.  Recently we affirmed our Baptismal CORE… Belief in the Triune God, hearing God’s Word and sharing the Lord’s Supper, fellowship and study with one another; perseverance in resisting evil, confessing wrongs and turning back to God; telling and showing the world of the transformational power of Christ’s death and resurrection; seeing Christ in all people, loving our neighbor, striving for justice and peace and respecting the dignity of all people.  THAT is our CORE.  Following ONE God… Our core!  Not chasing after things or people mistaking them for gods… Our core!  Honoring God’s name, the Sabbath and our elders… our core!  Not killing, or harming, but HELPING our neighbors… THAT’S our Core!  Not stealing… our CORE.  Not lying… our CORE.  Not wishing and working to manipulate, cheat or steal from your neighbor but helping them to live the life God gave them to live… all part of our CORE... that last bit in a handy ten point list!  

Things change.  Things we dearly love change.  In church, the liturgy changes, the music changes, the furniture changes, the windows change, the bells change, the address changes, our church name changes, the language changes, the priest and pastor changes, the ministries change, the seating changes, the coffee hour changes, the dishes change, the people change and a million other things that we really do love change.  But those things, beloved as they are, are not our CORE.  Our CORE doesn’t change.  God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit doesn’t change.  Love God and love neighbor.  That doesn’t change.  Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly… that doesn’t change.  Strive for justice and peace and the dignity of all people… that doesn’t change.  THAT is who and whose we are at our unchanging, unalterable CORE.  As everything else swirls and rocks and changes around us, taking a physical, tangible step toward THAT unchanging, unalterable CORE will put our feet on solid ground.  

But it’s not just the church that changes, is it?  The world changes too, and from time to time the world will rage with change and this seems to be one of those extra “ragey” times.  But no matter how crazy the world becomes, it can’t change our CORE either!  The world rages, people even plagiarize old Pontus Pilate asking, “What is Truth?” and sometimes it seems too hard to even keep up with the swirling, raging mess.  BUT, in “ragey” times and calm times… in every sort of time, taking even a small, intentional, tangible, physical, step toward what you value at your CORE, will slow the spinning, clear the fog and land you on solid ground every single time.  Feeling confused?  Take a step toward kindness, not just in thought, but DO an act of kindness?  Wondering how this happened or what’s next?  Take a step toward your neighbor with an act of compassion.  Feeling helpless?  Take a step toward your CORE and make a meal, check on your neighbor, share a smile, give a compliment, donate a pair of boots.    

The size of the step really doesn’t matter… There's a story about a little girl in a concentration camp.  One day she found ONE raspberry.  Even though she was starving, she wrapped it up and protected it all day until she saw her friend to give her that one, red, raspberry.  Even there, in the midst of the horrors of a concentration camp, that little girl found solid ground by taking a physical, tangible step toward what she valued at her Core.  

The CORE always remains.  God the Father remains… and He has told you, O mortal, what is good.  So take a step toward justice, kindness and humility and walk with God.  God the Son remains... ALWAYS present HERE, so take a step toward the Table and be filled.  God the Spirit, remains, in each breath we are given, so use that breath to take a step and speak for the poor, the meek, the mourning, the hungry, the persecuted and the reviled.  You are blessed.  You've been given God’s unchanging CORE in the waters of Baptism.  Nothing can change that CORE… so take a step toward that CORE and feel the blessing of solid ground under your feet.  Amen.  

Friday, January 20, 2017


The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, the 4th Chapter

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 

“Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” 

From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

You say you want a revolution.  Well, you know we all want to change the world.  You do realize that this is the story of how Jesus started a revolution?  Jesus was bringing in the Kingdom of Heaven, which was and is, a lot of different things but it’s first and foremost a Kingdom and that meant the other kingdom… the kingdom of Caesar… had to go!  This IS the story of how Jesus began his work of bringing in the Kingdom of Heaven.  The story of changing the way the world works from Caesar’s way to God’s way.  The story of the God of all creation, overthrowing Caesar, the head of the Roman Empire who thought so much of himself that he believed himself, not to be simply a mere mortal, but a god.  

Caesar ruled through violence, intimidation, hate, oppressive economic systems and fear.  He, and the people who fed his god complex and followed his lead, became ridiculously wealthy and they became that wealthy by crushing every last cent out of the people on the edges of society.  They worked the poor, the foreigner, the hungry, the sick and the homeless so they only had time and energy enough to barely stay alive, and never enough to hope for something better.  THAT oppression of the kingdom of Caesar was the great darkness in which the people sat, always covered every day by the shadow of death.  

Now, Jesus could have started his revolution by going straight to Rome.  Straight to the seat of the emperor himself, installing himself as king and then spreading the Kingdom of Heaven from the top down and from the center out.  And there have been disciples along the way who thought, and still think, THAT would be the best way to handle this revolution.  But Jesus started his revolution in a VERY different way.  He started by going from Nazareth to Capernaum.  To put that into perspective, if the United States was the Roman Empire, with Washington D.C. as Rome, Boston would be a regional center like Jerusalem, and so with that in mind, Jesus moving from Nazareth to Capernaum would be like Jesus moving from Bangor to Calais to begin his revolution.  

The other thing Jesus could have done, is that he could have surrounded himself with the most powerful, wealthy, strongest, most influential people he could find to help him start this revolution and topple Caesar.  But that’s not what Jesus did either.  Instead, Jesus dredged up the Middle Eastern equivalent of four sternmen on a lobster boat, not captains… not people who owned their own boats, but sternmen… from the Middle Eastern equivalent of Down East Maine.

Then he announced his revolution by saying “REPENT! The Kingdom of Heaven has come near.”  Now, I know when we hear “REPENT, the Kingdom of Heaven has come near” we think this is like the fifth grade when the teacher had to leave the room and the class went nuts until someone keeping watch yelled out “GET BACK IN YOUR DESKS!  The teacher is coming back!”  We hear REPENT and we think we’re being caught doing something naughty, and sometimes the call to repent is like that, but what’s REALLY happening HERE is that when the Kingdom of Heaven comes near, people’s lives can’t help but head in a new direction.  We hear the word “REPENT” and we think of it as a rebuke, but here “REPENT” is not so much Jesus telling these folks on the fringes to turn around because they’ve been naughty, as it is Jesus telling these folks on the fringes that when the Kingdom of Heaven comes near, the Kingdom of Heaven, by it’s very nature, will turn everyone’s life around and change the world!  

And what those four fisherman nobodies from the edge of nowhere realized very quickly, is that whenever and wherever Jesus showed up, the Kingdom of Heaven came near… RIGHT THERE and RIGHT THEN.  Everywhere Jesus went, all throughout Galilee… THERE was the Kingdom of Heaven as well, healing and feeding and bringing new life…. so, in the blink of an eye, people’s lives were changed and headed off in a radically new and different direction.  And remember, this didn’t happen in the center of everything, among the movers and shakers of the world.  Jesus showed up at edge of nowhere, dredging up a handful of nobodies who joined his revolution, changing the world from the outside in and from the bottom up.  

And here’s the overwhelming, intimidating, scary part for you and me… Jesus is still leading that same revolution... Jesus is still showing up… every single week, RIGHT HERE, in this place… which, if we’re honest, is only about a three hour drive from the edge of nowhere and he’s still dredging up the likes of me and you, who, if we’re honest are a lot closer to Down East deck hands than we are to billionaires who play with would-be Emperors.  When Jesus shows up here in that bread and that wine, just as real, just as tangible, just as fully present as he was on that beach in Galilee… When Jesus shows up here… Jesus… Immanuel… God with us… the King of Kings… when he shows up with the Kingdom of Heaven in tow, it changes our lives too!  Light shines in OUR darkness.  We find ourselves turned around, living in a dramatically different, revolutionary angle, changing the world, caught up in the revolution.  Jesus shows up with the Kingdom of Heaven in tow, the light dawns and we are changed… transformed into the Body of Christ.  

It takes real faith.  It takes real determination.  It takes real courage… REAL courage to come here week after week to the place where Jesus shows up with the Kingdom of Heaven in tow.  Because when the Kingdom of Heaven comes near, you KNOW we’ll be changed… that we’ll keep getting called to change direction… to keep being revolutionaries toppling the Caesars of the world.  You know we'll keep getting called to head out in new ways to bring healing to our neighbors, to fish for people, to shine light into the dark places, to speak truth to power and continue to live out this revolution.  So, thank you for your courage.  Thank you for your revolutionary act of showing up here each week!  Thank you for turning in revolutionary new directions as the Kingdom of Heaven draws near and thanks be to God for the light of Christ that always shines in the darkness and shows us the way, the truth and the life.  Amen.  

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Say Cheese!

The Holy Gospel According to St. John, the 1st Chapter

The next day John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”

The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

As the waters rose the man moved upstairs and then out onto the roof and as the waters continued to rise he prayed that God would save him.  Soon a man floated by on a log and offered to share his log.  The man replied, “No, I’m sure God will save me.”  Then a woman in a boat drove up to the house and offered to take him to safety.  “No” said the man, “I‘m sure God will save me.”  Then a helicopter lowered a basket to him but he shouted to them, “No, I‘m sure God will save me!”  The man drown.  When he met God, he asked, “Why didn’t you save me?” and God replied, “I sent you people with a log, a boat and a helicopter, what were you looking for?”  

He couldn't believe that God had been the source of such un-miraculous looking, “un-churchy” looking gifts like log sharing, boat driving and helicopter flying.  He was sure that if it was God saving him, it would have to be with the sky opening and the heavenly host singing.  

Four pilgrims were shipwrecked on a desert island:  a carpenter, a cook, a farmer and a seamstress.  They all were very gifted and understood that God was the source of their talents.  But when they washed up on the beach they all just sat there.  You see, they were humble and didn’t want to brag about their gifts.  So, the carpenter just sat there in spite of being able to build a shelter.  The cook just sat there in spite of seeing fruits and food she could prepare.  The farmer just sat there in spite of recognizing some native rice and the seamstress just sat there in spite of seeing fibers she could weave into fabric.  It wasn’t proper, Christian humility to put themselves forward, they thought, to volunteer without being asked and risk being seen as proud or pretentious.  So the group sat in the sand and died.

A huge earthquake hit Italy in May of 2012.  The epicenter was the town of Modena where one of the main industries is making Parmigiano-Reggiano.  Parmesan cheese, but not the shaker kind, the real, amazing, aged for years in giant wheels kind.  In the earthquake, the shelves in the warehouses with all those aging cheeses toppled over and 360,000 wheels of cheese broke open.  Each wheel was worth nearly three THOUSAND dollars!  People would lose their jobs, companies would go out of business.  The town was ready to go under.  Then there was Massimo.

Massimo Bottura is known these days as “the maestro" in this little town but this wasn’t always true.  For a long time he was a traitor… doing traditional Italian food… differently.  NOW he is “the maestro”… the chef and owner of Osteria Francescana… the third best restaurant in the world, so needless to say, he has some gifts. 

In the wake of that horrible earthquake, he saw the great need around him and creatively walked into that need with his gifts.  He created a recipe based on a classic Roman pasta dish called cacio e pepe (cheese and pepper) and transformed it into risotto cacio e pepe using those broken wheels of cheese.  THEN he shared that recipe, and the story of the earthquake with the world.  Soon, 40,000 people all over the world were cooking risotto cacio e pepe and every broken wheel was sold.  God gave this man his gifts.  Not traditional “churchy” looking gifts but Divine gifts none the less, and he saw the need around him and he stepped into the need with his gifts.  The sky didn’t open and the heavenly host didn’t sing, but a miracle still happened and that recipe gave life back to this town. 

We ALL have gifts given to us by the Holy Spirit in our Baptisms.  Some, like John the Baptist, have “churchy” looking gifts.  John had the gift of preaching… drawing thousands of people out into the wilderness to hear the truth.  Others also have gifts that look pretty “churchy,” like teaching the faith, visiting the sick, playing sacred music and creating liturgy.  But God has given most of the world “non-churchy” looking gifts which are just as amazing… the gift of sharing a log, driving a boat, flying a helicopter, building a shelter, growing crops, weaving clothes or imagining a risotto in a way risotto had never been imagined before. 

Frederick Buechner is known for reminding us that the place where your great passion… your great skill… your great gift from God intersects the world’s great need… THAT is the place of your calling.  THAT can be ANYWHERE... a pulpit, at a bedside, stocking shelves, in a kitchen or spreading manure.  And, I suppose any of that COULD happen surrounded by the heavenly host, but it’s no less a miracle when it happens covered in… let’s call it the stuff of your trade.  

Embrace your gifts.  Don’t hide them with some twisted sense of piety.  John the Baptist didn’t hide his gift of knowing the Messiah.  John didn’t avoid the spotlight.  He stepped right into the spotlight, and by doing that made sure EVERYONE could hear him proclaim “This is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” and when the people looked at him, he showed them Jesus.

Embrace your gifts, “churchy” and “non-churchy” alike.  Open your eyes and see the needs of the world around you and then be the one who finds never before imagined ways to meet the great needs of your neighbors with the great gifts you have been given.  Then, when everyone is looking, point to Jesus and say, “There is the Lamb of God.  The source of all gifts, the source of all passion, the source of life.”  Amen.  

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Universal Solvent

The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, the 3rd Chapter

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

In the science world, water is known as the universal solvent because water dissolves more things than any other liquid.  Water percolates through the soil, dissolving minerals along the way and then deposits them in caves, creating stalactites and stalagmites.  Water runs over centuries and eons dissolving solid rock and washing it out to sea creating canyons and perhaps most importantly, hot water dissolves tannins and essential oils and solids and caffeine as it flows through ground up coffee beans giving humans the ability to live with one another in the morning. 

This week we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord.  We remember the time that the Universal Solvent was poured out by John the Baptist on Jesus and we also take this time to remember and affirm when that same Universal Solvent was poured out on us as well.  In today’s lessons we hear God speaking through the prophet Isaiah saying, “See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I NOW declare.”  We hear the Apostle Peter, after having been taught all his life that God is partial to the people of Israel, now saying, “I truly understand NOW, that God shows no partiality.”  And we hear John the Baptist saying, “I need to be baptized by you Jesus, not the other way round!” And then we hear Jesus answer him saying, “Let it be this new way NOW.”

NOW.  Let it be so NOW.  One of the gifts of being one of the Baptized is in the Water and the Word’s ability to dissolve the things that seek to trap us, bind us and hold us in the past.  Things like sin, shame, bad choices, oughts and shoulds of every shape and size… those are the parts of the past we desperately long to leave there and not dredge back up in the middle of those sleepless nights.  The waters of Baptism free us from being bound to that pain-filled past.

But it’s not just the negative things that can trap us in the past, is it?  The waters of Baptism also dissolve the connections that tempt us to try and live in the familiar, unsurprising, comfortable nature of the past as well.  But our nostalgia and selective memories of what was, keeps us from living fully in TODAY, just as much as the painful shoulds and oughts of the past keep us from living fully in TODAY.  

Baptism frees us both from the prison of being tied to an unchangeable past full of pain, and also demands that those connections to the comfortable, familiar and nostalgic parts of the past be dissolved as well, because whether the past is full of pain or full of remembered joy, the truth is that the past is no longer where we live.

But it’s not just those ties to the past, that the waters of Baptism dissolve either.  Those same waters also dissolve our continual efforts to live in an effortless, Pollyanna sort of future or live in the fear of an apocalyptic wasteland of a future.  The waters of Baptism wash us back from either of those unpredictable futures and insist again, that as Children of God, we live fully in TODAY.  The Water of Baptism is the Universal Solvent God has given us that makes the unalterable past’s grip too slippery to bind us and makes the unpredictable future too slick for us to grab hold to with a firm grip. 

Henri Nouwen said all of that much better than I ever could.  He said, “The real enemies of our life are the ‘oughts’ and the ‘ifs.’  They pull us backward into the unalterable past and forward into the unpredictable future.  But real life takes place in the here and now.”   

This is NOT to say that we should refuse to learn lessons from the past nor is it to say we shouldn’t plan for the future.  But THIS moment, the moment to which we have been called to be, live and act, musn't be sacrificed to either the past or the future.  We must learn from the past, certainly, but not at the cost of abandoning the present.  We must plan for the future, absolutely, but not in a way that leaves us doing nothing today and always waiting for tomorrow. 

Our world seems filled these days with people either insisting on returning to an unrepeatable past or paralyzed by a fearful, unknowable future.  Stuck in either the unalterable past or the unknowable future, they forget that their neighbor desperately needs them to be present for them in THIS moment.  Look to that person sitting right there beside you, right this very moment.  THAT child of God needs you to be fully present for them right now, shining the light of Christ you first received in Baptism, into their lives RIGHT NOW.  

Let the past be the past.  Let the waters of Baptism dissolve the chains that bind you there.  Let the future happen in the future.  Let the waters of Baptism dissolve your grip on an unknowable future.  Allow the Waters of Baptism to wash you up from the past and back from the future into THIS moment, TODAY, RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW.  And as those Baptismal Waters wash you into this moment, listen closely for the Words from heaven speaking to you in each and every sacred NOW, “You are my Child.  You are Beloved.  You are a pleasure to behold RIGHT NOW.”  Amen.