Sunday, April 30, 2017

Fork in the Road? Take it!

The Holy Gospel According to St. Luke, the 24th Chapter

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 

Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Yogi Berra once said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it!”  This story, has about a million forks we could take.  There are probably about a million sermons you could find in this story too… or one obnoxiously long one I suppose… but that’s not my plan.  I just want us to take one.  Cleopas is thought to have been Joseph’s brother… the same Joseph that took his enormously pregnant wife to Bethlehem where she gave birth to Jesus.  But unlike Cleopas, there doesn’t seem to be even a whiff of a reference about who the other disciple might have been walking on that road to Emmaus.  But what if that’s not an accident?  Perhaps, the other disciple remains unnamed, so that you and I might more easily imagine that the one walking down that lonely road, filled with pain and fear into a completely unknown, uncharted, unexpected future… is us. 

Put yourself in the sandals of that unnamed disciple.  Imagine yourself walking away from what you dared to dream would be the salvation of the world… walking away from what you hoped beyond hope was the Kingdom of God coming to replace the painful, oppressive, brutal and life draining kingdom of Caesar… Imagine yourself walking out of town, out of hope, out of courage, out of ideas, out of any notion of living a life-giving life.  

As you imagine yourself walking that horrible path, Jesus comes.  But don’t just throw that meeting aside, looking for what comes next so fast… take a moment to REALLY look and see HOW Jesus comes.  He doesn’t stop you in the street.  He doesn’t shout at you or hold up a sign or give you a tract.  He doesn’t threaten you with violence, banishment or the fires of hell… he doesn’t ask you to imagine yourself dangling by a thread over an abyss or even tell you that walking out of town in your pain and fear is wrong or unfaithful. 

Take a moment and really see what Jesus does here… he just slides up next to you and ol’ Cleopas, falls into step with the both of you, and walks that exact same walk.  He doesn’t look to change where you’re going or block your path, even though the path you’re on is a path of pain and fear.  You and I walking along a terrible road… running away… walking in fear… moving away from what we hold dear… none of those are paths that keep Jesus away from us.  Whatever the path we’re walking, Jesus slides up next to us and walks along with us the whole way.

That’s how the risen Christ worked then.  That’s how the risen Christ works now.  There isn’t a road he won’t slide up to you on.  There isn’t a path too rough that he won’t join with you and walk all along the way.  There isn’t a journey that he won’t take with you.  There isn’t a valley too dark and shadowy that he won’t walk with you all the way through it to the other side.  

And as he walks along with us he doesn’t preach at us.  He doesn’t proselytize or pander or prophecy at us.  What does Jesus do?  He listens.  Just listens.  He asks us to tell our story and he doesn’t interrupt.  He listens.  He doesn’t tell us it’s a wrong story or a bad story or a story that shouldn’t be told or isn’t worth hearing.  He listens… and only when that story has been told does he take us by the hand and say, “Wow!  THAT is some story.  I wonder what that story you just told me would look like from over here?  Why don’t you put that story down right there for a minute… just right there in the middle of the road... and come over here with me and take a look at it from this angle.  How’s that story look now?”    

The story we have to tell isn’t “wrong”…  It’s our story… our experience… our hurt… our frustration… our disappointment… our grief, lament and pain… but the way we see it today, isn’t the only way it can be seen.  Every story we have to tell has countless angles from which it can be seen and just like our story, this Emmaus road from a different angle shows us the truth that Jesus slides up beside us and walks with us along EVERY road we walk in this life… good roads and bad roads and every road in between, whether we can see him or not, he is there!  Every story we have from walking those roads is a story worth telling… a story worth listening to, and a story the Risen Christ has the power to turn from darkness and death into light and life.

There’s one more fork in this road I want us to take.  If you can stretch yourself enough to see yourself in the unnamed disciples sandals, I wonder if you might also see yourselves... all y'all together... in the Risen Christ's sandals as well?  Together we are the Body of Christ you know, so what might it look like for us as a church to slide up on the folks out there, walking their roads of pain and fear?  What might it look like for us, as the Body of Christ, to really listen to our neighbors tell the stories they need to tell?  What might it look like for us, as the Body of Christ, to see the roads our neighbors walk, slide up to them right where they are, hear the stories they need to tell and walk with them down their difficult roads?  The promise of this story is that when we do that... when we walk together down that road... when it's time to sit down at the end of the day and break bread... in that breaking of the bread, together, we will see God.  Amen.  

Sunday, April 23, 2017

St. Thomas

The Holy Gospel According to St. John, the 20th Chapter
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Every second Sunday in Easter we hear about St. Thomas.  Now, I could tell you that I spent this past Friday on the ISLAND of St. Thomas to research this sermon, but to be honest, it being 30 degrees warmer and sunny had a lot more to do with it!  BEING THERE was wonderful.  Thank you for the opportunity to get away!

Being in St. Thomas on Friday, may not seem like it has much to do with this St. Thomas HERE today, but it shows the power of showing up… of being PRESENT.  On the island of St. Thomas, actually showing up was the ONLY way to experience the warmth of the sun, the sand, sea turtles and clear blue water and SHOWING UP was also the only way that the original St. Thomas was able to experience the risen Christ.  When he wasn’t there the first time.  He missed something!  When he showed up the second time… he saw Jesus! 

It may SOUND simple, just showing up, but it’s a great truth we often fly by in this lesson on the way to dumping on Thomas for not believing the fantastic story the disciples had to tell.  But showing up MATTERS!  Being present is POWERFUL!  It was true for Thomas and it’s true for us too.  When we’re present here on Sunday morning… we see and taste and experience Christ’s presence in the bread and the wine… we are present as part of the Body of Christ, all around us.  When we aren’t here… well, we miss it, like Thomas did.  But our presence doesn’t JUST make a difference in what we get.  It also makes a difference in what we can bring.  Being PRESENT matters, but really being PRESENT takes more than just being in the same room with someone.  It’s also takes being AWARE of what is going on around you… aware of WHO is around you… and remembering WHOSE they are. 

On our cruise, Kelly and I noticed the crew's name tags.  It had their name and the country they were from.  When we were TRULY PRESENT… not just in the same room, but SEEING the whole person… seeing both who and Whose they were, we could see them in a fuller way.  Our little way to recognize them was to thank them in their native language.  Now, Kelly and I are not fluent even in English, let alone all the other languages represented on the ship, but we figured out that we could say “thank you” in a surprising number of languages… obrigado, gracias, tack så mycket, danke, merci… we could even say it in English... thank you!  The most fun was to watch the reaction from someone from Indonesia when Kelly and I… OBVIOUSLY American, middle aged folks would tell them “Terima kasih.” They were universally surprised at first… which was fun… but then you could see in their face the appreciation of being SEEN… not as some invisible servant, but as a fellow, equal, human being with dignity… you could see the appreciation that someone had taken a moment to be TRULY PRESENT with them.  

Showing up is IMPORTANT.  Being TRULY PRESENT is important… Here in church, among the Body of Christ gathered around Word and Sacrament, for sure, but also among others, wherever you might be.  You will find that when you are truly present with them, you will more easily see that God is present with you as well.  

This lesson also reminds us though, that always being present… always showing up is hard.  Jesus’ entire ministry had been about showing up and reaching out to the lost, last and least of this world.  Moving TOWARD frightening people like outcasts, the diseased, and unclean… Moving boldly and fearlessly TOWARD the lowly and lifting them up.  That was the value the disciples had shared with Jesus throughout his ministry.  But, after Jesus’ death, showing up got hard.  They felt lost and scared and they reacted to that fear by dramatically moving AWAY from everything Jesus had been about in his life, locking away the world in fear.  

This was NOT how Jesus showed them to live and it wasn’t what he had told them to do at the Last Supper.  He had told them, when it all goes wrong… LOVE ONE ANOTHER!  When the path is blocked… LOVE ONE ANOTHER!  When things don’t go the way you want them to go… step through the fear be PRESENT and LOVE ONE ANOTHER!  But when Jesus was crucified they threw up their hands and locked themselves AWAY from the world.  

It took Christ’s risen presence… more than once… to move them IN SPITE OF their fear, back to the path he had always led them and was STILL leading them and leads us still today.  Even now, when things don’t go as planned, when life hits horrible, axle breaking pot holes and when there doesn’t appear to be a path ahead… Jesus continues to SHOW UP and calls us to take one more step in his footsteps, caring for the lost, last and least… moving THROUGH whatever difficulties and dangers and fears life throws at us, toward life.    

We live as disciples, not when we are free of fear, but when we invite all our worries, fears and disappointments to get on the bus with us and drive TOWARD the direction Jesus is calling anyway!  We live like disciples when we act like Donavan from Jamaica.  He was a waiter who circulated around the breakfast buffet carrying six carafes, singing a made up song about coffee and tea to a Bob Marley tune.  "Here's some coffee!  Here's some tea!  Every little thing, is gonna be alright!"  When his song ended, he pretended he was on the radio as the Celebrity Summit morning DJ, telling us the weather… I’m sure it was always a beautiful day in his eyes... and then he announced the time like any good morning DJ.  It was breakfast time!  

Talking with Donavan as he filled our cups, it quickly became clear that he did what he did as a disciple… his ministry was bringing abundant life to the breakfast crowd, cruise after cruise.  He simply could not be timid, or hide behind locked doors… he HAD TO pass on the presence of Christ he had experienced in his life to the people that God put in his path, with pots of coffee and tea!  He didn’t quote the scripture, “It is not I who lives, but Christ who lives in me,” he just boldly lived it!  I know he will continue to proclaim to the world, sometimes with words, but always with carafes of coffee and tea and abundant joy, the message every disciple has to share in the presence of others… that Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  May we be disciples like Donavan, being truly present wherever life might place us, with Christ’s living presence in us, bringing abundant joy to the world in all that we do.  Amen.  

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Dead Ends

The Holy Gospel According To St. John, the 13th Chapter
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

This was NOT going the way the disciples had hoped it would go.  They all may have had different ideas about how they DID want it to go from here, but THIS was not one of them.  This was also not going the way Jesus wanted it to go.  In this story it looks like Jesus is calm, cool and collected but elsewhere you get the sense that this was not Jesus’s first choice either.  They could all read the writing on the wall for how things were going to go in the short term, but no one gathered that night could really wrap their minds around what would happen next.  You and I have spent our whole lives peeking ahead in this story.  You and I know that Easter is coming but the disciples simply couldn’t see past Jesus’s unavoidable, impending, horrible death.  

So what do you do when you can’t see past the thing that looks like the end?  How do you live and act and work, when the world refuses to go the only way you can see it possibly working?  The temptation might be to seek revenge or at least find someone to blame and someone to point your finger at.  The temptation might be to just give up… to just throw up your hands and say “I’ve given it my all!  I’m done!”  

Jesus knew that’s where the disciples would be tempted to go after his death, so he gave them a way through the seemingly impossibly blocked and broken future.  Don’t give up.  Don’t seek revenge.  Don’t find someone to blame or point fingers or refuse to get out of bed in the morning.  Instead… Love one another.  It wasn't just a suggestion either.  This was Jesus’s final command.  Love one another.  When the road ahead is impossibly blocked, love one another.  When things are completely going wrong, love one another.  When every calculation, timetable and plan, says this is impossible… love one another.  

Tomorrow we will hear the story of our God’s PASSION.  It’s not the story of an angry or violent God who demands satisfaction, revenge or someone to blame.  It’s a story that proclaims the depth of God’s love, and shows us that in love, God will bring the world to ABUNDANT LIFE no matter how impossible the road ahead might appear.  Tonight, Jesus commanded them to share that love with the world.  Not just in the good times, but ESPECIALLY in the impossible times, Jesus told them to react to the impossible by loving one another.  

The power of love was not a new revelation Jesus was sharing that first Maundy Thursday evening.  Jesus had shared the power of God’s love in parables, healings, feedings, dinners and miracles throughout his ministry.  Tonight he just bound them all up into one powerful package, and told them, “Love one another.  As I have first loved you, love one another.”  

Love is the way through the seemingly impossible road that lies ahead.  In every aspect of our lives… at home, at work, at church, in our city, in our country and throughout the world… LOVE has the power to break through and transform every dead end and turn it into a path toward ABUNDANT LIFE.  

God’s love is that powerful.  It is a love that by it’s nature, changes everything it touches!  This love makes a way for the weak, the powerless and the poor to find life.  This love dives into places filled with pain and hurt, prejudice and hatred and brings compassion, care, understanding and inclusion.  This love embraces you and me and every single molecule of creation, head on, no holds barred and literally to death... THAT is the kind of love that changes the world.  THAT is the kind of love we are called to reflect to the world.   

And THAT is the love we receive at this table when we eat the bread and drink the wine.  It reminds us that Jesus ate with EVERYONE and calls us to do the same.  It reminds us of the first Passover, and the love of God that freed those in bondage, fed them along the way and brought them to the promised land and it reminds us that even when the world seeks to separate blood from body, God’s love has the power to transform even that into life. 

Tonight, Jesus gave us his bequest and LOVE was the Divinely powerful tool Jesus gave to the disciples that evening… a tool so powerful it can break through every wall the world might try to build… a tool so powerful it can free captives, feed the hungry, heal the broken, welcome the stranger and transform death into life.   You and I have been given this tool so that it might transform us, our church, our city and our world into the Kingdom of God.  Love has THAT power.  May we love one another as Jesus first loved us. Amen.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Sometimes You Can See it Coming

The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, the 28th Chapter

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Sometimes… you can see it coming.  I was scrolling through Facebook recently and came across a video.  The video was stopped on the first frame, so there was no way to KNOW what was going to happen, but you could pretty much see it coming.  In that first, frozen, frame there was a train station on one side of the shot and the tracks on the other side.  It had snowed the night before… quite a bit, by the looks of it, and there were a couple of feet of snow drifted over the tracks.  

Off in the distance in this first, frozen, frame… down the tracks a bit, there was a train.  So, now you’ve got all the pieces to this puzzle.  People on the platform, a ton of snow on the tracks, a train on the way and the video going viral on Facebook.  Sometimes you can see how the pieces of the puzzle fit together, sometimes you know how the video is going to end… sometimes you can see it coming.  Sure enough, you push play and the train barrels through the station, not planning to stop, but plowing the snow from the night before and all that snow from the tracks gets plowed up and showered all over the people waiting at the station!  Sometimes, you can see how the puzzle will come together… sometimes, you can see it coming.  

Sometimes though… you can’t. Sometimes… you can’t see how the pieces fit together and you can’t see it coming.  Jesus, the one these disciples had been following now for three years, had been crucified.  He had talked about the Kingdom of God coming near… the world working in a new way where everyone had enough… enough food, enough shelter, enough dignity, enough self worth, enough purpose, enough meaning and having enough would make life abundant!  That was one piece of the picture… one piece of the puzzle.  But he hadn’t just TALKED about that stuff, he had made that stuff HAPPEN.  Healing the sick, feeding the hungry, giving sight to the blind and even raising the dead!  That was another piece to the puzzle.  But then there was Good Friday.  A horribly different piece of the puzzle… Jesus crucified.  He was dead and no one saw how THAT horribly final, tragic and unchangeable piece of the puzzle would fit together with Jesus’s actions that SHOWED the Kingdom of God was coming with the promise of abundant life.  There was NO WAY those pieces of that puzzle would EVER fit together.  They simply could NOT see Easter coming.  

It’s interesting though how the different disciples handled that impossible puzzle when it was placed in front of them.  The pieces were all there… Jesus’ promise of abundant life… Jesus’ actions that brought about abundant life… and then Jesus’s death on the cross.  The guys… Matthew, James, John and the rest of the guys… they ran off at the crucifixion and hid, figuring they were very likely the next ones to hang on a cross.  They took a look at those pieces of that impossible puzzle, threw up their hands and went home.  

The women though… Mary and the other Mary… they didn’t run off.  They stayed to the end and then, even though there was ABSOLUTELY NO WAY those puzzle pieces would EVER be put together, they came back to the tomb on Sunday.  They didn’t see the Resurrection coming any more than the guys did, but they also didn’t throw up their hands and go home.  Instead of running away, they chose to take a step toward the next faithful thing… go to the tomb and take care of Jesus’ body.  

They KNEW, just like the guys did, that the pieces of the puzzle they had would NEVER go together.  Jesus’ promise for life, his actions to bring about life and his horrible death were like two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and a 747!  Things that just did NOT fit together!  But the women remained engaged anyway, turning the pieces this way and that way, around and around… even though there was NO WAY they could see them going together, they kept the puzzle pieces turning.  

Mary and the other Mary, stuck with the puzzle… so they were there when God gave them the piece to the puzzle they were missing.  The resurrection.  It was the piece that made that impossible puzzle come together and they NEVER saw it coming.  They stuck with the puzzle, turning it and working with it until the piece they needed was given to them by God.  

You and I… we’re faced with puzzles in our lives and in our world and in our church all the time.  Sometimes we can see how they go together way down the track.  But sometimes we just can’t!  When we’re faced with those impossible puzzles… disease, cancer, the death of a spouse or a child or a parent, impossible personal finances… impossible church finances, job changes, moving, transitions, having to start again… When we get handed the pieces to a puzzle that are impossible to put together… not just LOOK really hard to put together, but are literally IMPOSSIBLE to put together… what do we do?  

Well, you could handle it like James, John, Matthew and the guys.  Throw up your hands, give up on the puzzle, and run off.  That’s clearly one option… But you might handle it like Mary and the other Mary.  In spite of KNOWING that the pieces you have don’t fit together, you could choose to put one foot in front of the other and do the next faithful thing and the next faithful thing and then the next faithful thing… turning those puzzle pieces and watching for God to do something you’ll never see coming.  

Easter teaches us that we don’t have all the pieces.  That there are unexpected pieces yet to come… Pieces that we can’t even IMAGINE and could NEVER see coming.  May we choose to be like Mary and the other Mary.  May we keep turning the pieces… Keep stepping toward the next faithful thing and the next… turning the pieces until God does something unexpected that we could NEVER see coming. Because with God, it turns out there is no such thing as an impossible puzzle.  Amen.