Tuesday, March 14, 2017

BRENDA’s a @#$%&…and BRENDA LIES!

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

So Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” 

Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or, “Why are you speaking with her?” Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him. Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.” 

She was a woman so she had no legal status.  She was a Samaritan, so she and her water bucket were unclean.  She had an issue with the men, but it’s most likely she had been thrown out by a series of men for being infertile rather than anything more scandalous.   

You’re a worthless woman.  An unclean, worthless woman.  You’re a barren, unclean, worthless woman.  That was the story she had inherited, been told and been taught.  A story that had been beaten and ground into the deepest parts of her physical and spiritual being to the point where that was the only story she knew.  

Then, there was Jesus, just sitting there at the well.  Not repulsed, not offended, not on guard, not worked up, not holier than thou.  Just… thirsty.  This made no sense.  Her story was generations in the making… told and retold, ground in and passed down until there was no room for any other story.  It was a carved in stone, never to be changed, never to be challenged story of a barren, broken, unclean, worthless woman with a heavy, leaky, bucket-full-of-stagnant-water kind of life.   And what did Jesus do?  He sat there... He sat there and calmly and relentlessly insisted…  THAT... STORY… IS... A... LIE.

He sat there, and it took him twice as long as most Gospel stories and THREE TIMES as long as some!  But he sat there and insisted there was a different story for her.  Back and forth and back and forth they went with Jesus always, calmly, quietly, patiently, persistently, insisting she hear her TRUE story.  

That new story… the TRUE story was that she was worthy of LIFE and not just any old life, but an ABUNDANT life… a filled with meaning, self worth and purpose-filled life.  Her TRUE story was a life of abundance... like living water overflowing with God’s love for her.  Not “someday” when she changed, got right with God, or said better prayers, but RIGHT NOW, JUST AS SHE WAS right there at the well... broken, wounded, unclean and abandoned.  Her TRUE story was that she was a Child of God, worthy of a life overflowing with the abundance of God’s love for her, simply because God said so!  THAT was her TRUE story.  THAT was the story Jesus insisted replace the horrible one she had inherited and been taught and had carried like an oppressive, heavy, leaking, bucket-of-stagnant-water for her entire life.  It wasn’t an easy story to un-learn, but Jesus stuck with her and when she finally got it, she REALLY got it!  So much so that she went and told the world.

We’ve all been told, taught or inherited terrible and untrue stories… as individuals, as families and as a congregation.  We all have that voice that tells us that terrible, untrue story in the middle of those quiet, sleepless nights or pipes up and says “you can’t,” right when we’re ready to step off into something new… It’s the voice that tells us we’re not worthy, we’re broken, we’re unclean and worthless.  We all have that voice.  It’s relentless and persistent and we all know the story it tells.  It tells a heavy, leaky bucket-of-stagnant-water story that erodes away our lives.  

In OUR family, we learned something powerful from a Drag Queen named Katya.  The voice that tells those toxic stories?  Her name is Brenda.  It’s brilliant to name that voice, because then you know who to argue back with!  Because here’s the thing about Brenda and every voice like her’s… BRENDA’s a @#$%&…and BRENDA LIES!  That toxic story Brenda tells?  THAT... STORY... IS... A... LIE!  

The TRUTH for you and the TRUTH for me and the TRUTH for this congregation is the same TRUTH that Jesus told the woman at the well… YOUR life, your family’s life, this congregation’s life is WORTHY of God’s ABUNDANCE... is WORTHY of the living water... of God’s overflowing fountain of love and compassion and grace!  Not just BACK THEN in some idealized, Father knows best past, where Brenda conveniently forgets the scandals and imperfections… and not in some unrealistic future either, where Brenda somehow convinces us that God will allow us to have an abundant church life ONLY if we recreate that plastic, phony, conveniently incomplete, idealized past.  

But remember… Brenda LIES!  This congregation is worthy of God’s gift of abundant life RIGHT NOW, JUST AS WE ARE… right HERE, right NOW… and to remind you of that truth, there’s a FONT of living water right there, where, in Baptism, each of us began to live in God's TRUE story! 

You know what I love about that particular font?  It’s like Jesus at the well.  Immovable.  It just sits there week after week, year after year, calmly, quietly, patiently, persistently, INSISTING that we quit listening to Brenda and her lies and instead HEAR Jesus tell us our TRUE story… that we are loved by God… that we are treasures to one another and to our city… that we make an ENORMOUS difference in the lives of scores of people every single week… that we don’t just RECEIVE the gift of Abundant LIFE… But this congregation BRINGS IT!  We bring the LIFE we've been given with large, beautiful, deep and meaningful footprints out into the world around us!  

Brenda is persistent, relentless and clever.  But Brenda’s a LIAR!  Brenda lies!  Jesus, though, is MORE persistent, MORE relentless and MORE clever and Jesus tells the TRUTH and that Font is going to sit there and continue being the place we hear Jesus’s TRUE story told over and over and over again… and it will sit there and remind you of God’s TRUTH for as long as it takes for you to un-learn Brenda’s lies and hear Jesus’ TRUTH.  

Brenda’s story is not an easy story to un-learn.  It’s devilishly clever, but Jesus will stick with you, and each time Jesus’s story gets into you, like it got into the woman at the well… even just a little bit, you, like her will be inspired to go out and show the world the TRUTH of God’s great gift of Abundant Life for you and for all of Creation!  Amen.  

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Stretching To a Place Beyond Words

The Holy Gospel According to St. John, the 3rd Chapter
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 
Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

In Lent we are reminded to start with WHY.  Ash Wednesday was socked in by fog, so I’ll catch you up on what I mean.  The WHAT of Lent are the things we do, like extra prayer, fasting, acts of service and giving to the poor.  The HOW of Lent, as we’re reminded on Ash Wednesday, is to do the WHATs of Lent, NOT like the hypocrites do them!  So the HOW is to pray, not to be heard by others, but so it’s between you and God.  Giving and doing service, NOT to get kudos from others, but in secret so only God can see what you’re doing.  

The WHAT of Lent (those extra prayers, fasting and giving) is good for our faith, but not all that deep.  The HOW of Lent, doing the WHAT’s of Lent in a way that connects you to God is deeper, but still not the goal.  Lent is meant to draw you even deeper, from the WHAT and through the HOW so we begin to wrestle again with… WHY.

The WHY of Lent is really the big WHY… WHY am I here… WHY do I have this life?  We begin Lent being reminded that our lives have been carved out by God’s creating, redeeming love from nothing more than dust.  Your miraculous, beautiful, improbable life…  carved from dust by God, with infinite love, has been given to you so you might really, really LIVE that life ABUNDANTLY between “remember that you are dust” on one side and “to dust you shall return” on the other.  LIFE lived ABUNDANTLY!  That’s the WHY… but what does that even mean?

Nicodemus had seen WHAT Jesus was doing.  It was Jesus’s SIGNS that had caught his attention.  In John’s Gospel, a SIGN is what the other Gospels call MIRACLES.  Turning water into wine was the first of Jesus' SIGNS.  Nicodemus knew WHAT Jesus was doing AND, to give him a ton of well deserved credit, he didn’t get stuck on the surface with WHAT.  Nicodemus also knew HOW Jesus did all these things.  “No one can do these signs apart from the presence of God.”  The presence of God was HOW Jesus did these things and to give Nicodemus even more well deserved credit, he was willing to risk his status, safety… even his life to seek Jesus out, because he was ready to wrestle with the hardest question… WHY.  

The trouble Nicodemus ran into when he went to wrestle with WHY is the same trouble we all run into when we take the plunge into wrestling with WHY.  The depth and breath of WHY… the depth and breath of this LIFE lived ABUNDANTLY is literally beyond words.  Jesus wasn’t trying to be tricky or secretive or difficult when he attempted to help Nicodemus by talking about wind and Spirit and being born from above.  Jesus was trying to help Nicodemus understand the fullness of something that is simply beyond words.  The fullness of our lives… Our lives created by God in love out of the ashes… the entirety of the WHY of our lives is just more than our words can contain BECAUSE our lives are inextricably tied up with the boundless, creative power of God.  Fully grasping the WHY of life, requires fully grasping the entirety of God… which just can’t be done.  

That’s why Jesus talked about water and the Spirit and being born from above here and used stories and parables throughout his life.  That’s why Jesus did signs and miracles.  That’s why Jesus didn’t just sit in one place and talk, but LIVED OUT the WHY of life… SHOWING us that LIFE is lived most deeply… most abundantly… when we care for the least, lost and last.  He SHOWED us the life God carved out for us from dust can’t be defeated by death but in his resurrection SHOWED us that LIFE is meant to be eternal, but not just eternal either… Because after all, if your life is horrible AND eternal, how good is that?  Taking on the WHY question is like trying to get your arms around a giant redwood… physically it can’t be done, but the stories, signs, parables and rituals help stretch us further and wrestle more deeply with the enormity of the WHY of ABUNDANT LIFE, beyond the point words begin to fail.

Nicodemus is so often shown as someone who just didn’t “get it”… someone who tried to take a swing at what Jesus was pitching and whiffed it.  But I think maybe John put this story in here to show us that wrapping our minds around the WHY of this LIFE which God has given us, isn’t that simple, and if we’re really willing to stretch and wrestle with the depths of WHY, it will mean stretching and wrestling in a match that goes on round after round after round.  Nicodemus did that throughout John’s Gospel.  He was never able to fully wrap his mind around that WHY question, but since that WHY question contains the limitlessness of God it’s really no wonder… but he kept at it.  I think John put his story here for us to see in Nicodemus a model for our wrestling and stretching with the depths and breadth of WHY... to inspire us to keep at it. 

WHAT, then HOW, then maybe WHY.  Most of the world reads this Gospel story that way.  First the WHAT of the signs.  Next the HOW of God’s presence and then, where do most people stop?  They stop at John 3:16 and when you stop there, you don’t even get to the deeper WHY… that “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved… that the world might really live the abundant life they've been given, beginning now and never ending… through him.” 

In Lent, we're reminded to start with WHY.  To start with the bottom of this lesson and work up from there… Wrestling first with the WHY, that Jesus came so that we would have LIFE and have it ABUNDANTLY.  From there we can move to the HOW.  HOW do we live this life abundantly?  John reminds us that believing in Jesus is the answer to HOW, as long as we remember that BELIEVING, as Jesus meant it, is not done with our minds, but with our feet and our hands, DOING the WHATs Jesus did day after day… living a Jesus kind of life.  The WHATs we do in our daily lives flow out of HOW we walk, and HOW we walk is the Jesus way and WHY we walk the Jesus was is walking that way is the best way to ABUNDANTLY live the life we have been given by the One who carved us in love out of dust.  And WHY were we given this life to live abundantly?  The short answer is because it makes God happy.  The long answer is what Nicodemus wrestled with and stretched for his entire life.  May each of us do the same.  Amen.  

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Night Prayer

The angels of God keep watch over us through the night,
and quiet the powers of darkness.
The Spirit of God guide us through the night,
and lead us to the peace of God’s Kingdom.
It does us no good to rush and hurry, rise up early, stay up late, put off our rest, and eat the food of anxiety, worry and dread throughout the day and night.  For those who are children of God, we are given all that we need, even while we sleep.
My brothers and sisters, our help is in the name of the Lord,
who is making the heavens and the earth.
Dear God, 
We thank you for all that is good, for our creation and for our lives, for our role as stewards of planet earth, for the gifts of life and our neighbors, for your love which is without limit and eternal.  We thank you O God, most holy and beloved, our Companion, the Light upon our pathway, our bright and guiding evening star.  Amen.

We repent the wrongs we have done:
We have wounded your Spirit.
God of Creation, heal our brokenness.
We are lost in the darkness.
Light of God, who shines in the darkness, transfigure us.
We forget that we are in your hands.
Spirit of God, lead us to our home in You.
Forever loving, forever living God, it is in You in whom we live and move and have our being.  All that we are, all we have been, and all we will ever be is known to you.  You know us and love us to the deepest corners of our broken hearts.  You know all that wakes us in the night with worry.  God shines into you a light that banishes all darkness, even in the depths of your hearts.  God blows the Holy Spirit through you, drying pools of bitter tears, even in the depths of your heart.  Forgiving God, flood now your children’s hearts with sweet, renewing, living water that they may live abundantly, love relentlessly and serve unceasingly in their peaceful slumber and in their rising service.  
The Word
Eternal God, open our ears and open our lips,
that our ears may hear your Word and our mouths may proclaim your praise.
The Prayers
Into your hands, O God, I commend my spirit,
for you have redeemed me, O God of truth and love.
Keep me, O God, as the apple of your eye;
hide me under the shadow of your wings.
Preserve us, O God, while waking, and guard us while sleeping,
that awake we may watch with Christ, and asleep may rest in your peace.
Praise be to God, I have lived to see this day.  God’s promise is fulfilled, and my duty done.
At last you have given me peace, for I have seen with my own eyes
the salvation you have prepared for all nations - a light to the world in its darkness,
and the glory of your people Israel.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.  Amen.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

O most Compassionate Life-giver, in whom we live and move and have our being,
may we forever honor and praise your name; Establish Your rule of justice, peace and love; 
throughout our neighborhoods, country and world.

With the things for life we need, feed us.  From the hurts we inflict on one another, forgive us. In passing on your forgiveness to others, inspire us. 
In times of trial, strengthen us. From darkness too great to bear, spare us.
From the binding chains of evil, free us.
For yours is the kingdom of justice, the power of love and the reign of glory
now and for ever.  Amen.
Concluding Prayers
I will lie down in peace and take my rest,
for it is in God alone that I live without fear.
Let us bless the Compassionate life giver,
let us praise God above all else forever.
May God’s name be praised beyond the edges of the universe,
with glory and exaltation forever.
Lord, it is night.
The night is for stillness.
Let us be still in the presence of God.
It is night after a long day.
What has been done has been done;
what has not been done has not been done;
help us to let it go.
The night is dark.
Let our fears of the darkness of the world and 
the darkness of our own lives
rest in you. 

The night is quiet.
Let the quietness of your peace enfold us,
all who are dear to us,
and all who have no peace in your embrace.
The night, though dark, proclaims the dawn.
Let us look expectantly to the new day,
new joys, new possibilities.
In your name we pray.
Christ be within us to keep us, beside us to guard us,
before us to lead us, behind us to protect us,
beneath us to support us, above us to bless us.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.