Thursday, June 29, 2017


The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, the 10th Chapter
“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

Rob and Sally were members of my first congregation in Wisconsin.  They lived in Rob's old family cabin on Lake Poygen which they had converted into a year-round home.  Soon after we arrived, Rob invited the new pastor to come over for a visit.  He told me that he would need a lot of counseling and in order to insure the privacy his counseling would require, we would go out in their boat onto the lake.  Also, so we wouldn’t raise any suspicions about what we were doing out in the middle of the lake, we would need to bring fishing rods with us and fish, so that it LOOKED like our primary purpose was fishing when in reality it was pastoral counseling.  

Because he was CLEARLY in need of pastoral counseling I immediately agreed.  The day for “counseling” arrived and I got to their house early in the morning.  Sally greeted me at the door and took me through the house and as she showed me out into the backyard and down to the boathouse, she handed me a small cooler packed with water, sodas and snacks.  

Rob greeted me in the boathouse and we got the boat into the water, loaded in the cooler and off we went out onto the lake for “counseling.”  Rob had grown up on this lake.  He and his brother had fished it as kids and sold their catch to a local restaurant for their famous Wisconsin, Friday night fish fry so we always caught fish.  We talked too.  I learned way more from him than he learned from me.  About 11:30 we headed back to the boathouse and pulled out the catch of fish.  Rob cleaned all the fish.  I was not allowed to help.  I was his guest.  

We then went back to the house and opened the door to the overwhelming smell of fresh baked bread.  And there in the kitchen was “just a little lunch” as Sally called it.  Fresh bread, meats and cheeses, pickles and condiments all laid out with the deepest of care.  Rob showed me his favorite way to eat this lunch… a slice of Sally’s homemade bread with meat and cheese and some garlic sprinkled on top and then toasted in the toaster oven.  It was perfect.  

The three of us chatted over lunch and when it was done I thanked them both and Sally put into my hands a bag with the rest of the fresh baked bread and Rob handed me a cooler with all the cleaned filets packed in baggies on ice and they both told me they would need additional counseling… probably in next couple of weeks.  

Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me.  Whoever welcomes me, welcomes the One who sent me.  Rob and Sally welcomed me.  By welcoming me, they welcomed Christ and by welcoming Christ they welcomed God.  That wasn't true just because I was a pastor.  It's true for every human being and it was very obvious that this wasn’t the way Rob and Sally treated a few select people now and then, this was how they lived… day in and day out… this is how they welcomed EVERYONE!  This is the way they treated all of “the little ones” this lesson talks about.  This is how they cared for the “the least of these” as Jesus refers to all of humanity later in Matthew’s Gospel.   

The way we show welcome to “the little ones” and “the least of these” is how we show welcome to God!  How welcome is God in our churches, in our homes and in our hearts?  None of us needs to convince anyone with our words, how we welcome God.  What we DO in welcoming the "little ones" and "the least of these" SHOWS how welcoming we are to God.  And it’s clear that “the little ones” and “the least of these” are not some sub-set of humanity, "the little ones" are ALL of humanity and nothing less.  

So how do YOU show welcome?  How do you welcome the visitor to the church, the new neighbor to your neighborhood, the new pastor or priest to your church? How do you welcome the stranger and all the rest of God’s little ones?  The first step is to NOTICE them.  You first have to SEE them.  Not for what you might get out of them, how you might use them or how you might fear them, but for who they are at their core.  No matter where they are from, what they believe or what language they speak, they are nothing less than a child of God!  This lesson challenges us to REALLY see them, not just because it's the right thing to do, but because when we SEE them and welcome them, we do nothing less than see and welcome God.

This church is so much better at noticing, seeing and making a place for all people than many congregations out there.  I've heard some of you say, "well, all churches do that."  They should... but no, they don't.  But the challenge this Gospel lesson gives to all of us… whether we’re calling a new pastor/priest, distributing clothes and toiletries or living out our daily lives... our challenge is to not take a break from providing a lavish welcome to all "the little ones"... a lavish welcome worthy of God. 

Imagine what the world would become if we all began to really live into Jesus' call to provide an extravagant welcome.  Imagine how the world would be transformed if we practiced this not just for clergy searches, or on Sunday mornings at church, but in each and every moment of our lives with every single person we met.  What would the world be like if we lived like we truly believed that verse in Hebrews, that we should not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it?  

Imagine how the church would be different.  Imagine how your neighborhood would be different.  Imagine how the city, state, country and world would be different if we welcomed each person as if we were welcoming one of God’s angels. Imagine how the world would be different if we acted like we were welcoming God!  

You may have noticed, that's not the way the world currently works.  So someone needs to lead the way!  So, lead the way!  Go into the world and provide an extravagant welcome to one new person this week.  Greet that new person in the same way you would greet God’s angels… Greet that new person like you would greet one of Jesus’ disciples.  Greet that new person like you would greet Jesus.  Greet that new person as if they were the Divine, standing in your presence, because if we take seriously what Jesus says here, THAT is exactly what you will be doing.  Amen. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Like a Feather Poking Through

The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, the 9th & 10th Chapters

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon, also known as Peter, and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

And lo, it cameth to pass that Jesus sat down with twelve new rector/pastor types and shared with them their letters of agreement.  Jesus read, “You will be expected to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers and cast out demons, “Wow!” said the disciples, “That seems like a really ambitious list.  What’s the compensation package look like?”

Jesus said, “I’m glad you asked!  There will be no gold, silver or copper BUT you won’t have a bag or a belt to put any money in so that won’t be a problem.”  “But if we don’t have a belt or bag, what will we match with our sandals?” asked the twelve.  The twelve had excellent fashion sense!  “Oh, don’t worry about that,” said Jesus, “You won’t have sandals either.  Oh, and one last thing.  Before you get done you’ll be hated by everyone because of my name.” “That seems like a “great opportunity.” Said the disciples, “Is there any Good News?”  “Actually,” Jesus replied, “There IS really Good News… THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN HAS COME NEAR!”    

What sort of an ODD Rector/Pastor type person would accept a call like that?  Impossible expectations, promises of rejection, hatred and persecution.  Wolves in sheep’s clothing.  Sheep in wolves' clothing… lions and tigers and bears, OH MY!  And not even a stick to beat back wild beasts or unruly parishioners!  Now, I don’t think THIS call HERE is quite like THAT call there.  I looked, and “Raising the dead” was NOT on my Letter of Agreement!  But even though THIS call now, isn’t exactly like THAT call, then, following God’s call is still HARD!  And not just for Rector/Pastor types either.  For all of us who do God’s work in our world today… it’s HARD!  Christ Trinity might not need the EXACT sort of ODD people that Jesus called together in this lesson, but the work that you and I are called to do in our world at this time in our history, could still benefit from at least a little bit of… well, ODDNESS.

Apparently your search committee believes I might have the sort of “ODDNESS” needed for this place and time.  But here’s the thing, if your search committee is anything like the rest of you, YOU just might have that right sort of “ODDNESS” as well!  Which makes be smile, because one of the most beautiful things in life is finding other people with whom you can un-reservedly share your particular sort of “oddness”.  

And it is a bit of ODDNESS, isn’t it, that we all share?  It’s ODDNESS that we can watch the news, see the violence, hear the hate and see people being mean, seemingly just for meanness sake, and yet STILL believe that there’s actually enough… enough food to feed one more mouth, enough space for one more chair at the table, enough compassion to lift one more soul, enough love to include one more heart, enough light to dispel any darkness and enough life to even raise the dead!  

It’s ODDNESS!  To insist God has given us enough, when mountains of pictures and sound bites and ick pour in on us day after day, always insisting there will NEVER be enough, there CAN never be enough… so you better grab all you can before someone who’s different gets it first!  It’s oddness!  Oddness to believe what we believe!  So, how is it then, that we’re ever going to be able to maintain our beautiful, holy, mutual, oddness in the face of a world that keeps insisting on horribleness?  I’m glad you asked!  I believe we’re able to do it… we’re able to maintain that beautiful, holy, ODDNESS of love, compassion, grace and generosity because… THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN HAS COME NEAR! 

Now, I’ll be honest with you, I have nothing to do with it.  I don’t have a dozen boxes labeled “Kingdom of Heaven” up in Maine, and it’s not going to “come near” by moving us next door!  The truth is, the Kingdom of Heaven has ALREADY come near here!   The Kingdom of Heaven is God’s gift… God’s doing… not mine.  I’m just here to tell you that even when it doesn’t feel like it, the Kingdom of Heaven HAS INDEED come near and it’s pokin’ in.  Not always easy to see, but pokin’ in for sure!

It’s kinda like this couch that used to be at my grandparent’s place in Upper Michigan.  Every summer I’d sit on that couch and there would be this one little spot… one little, tiny, pokey spot.  If you got up and looked, you’d never see it, but it poked, so you knew it was there.  One summer I felt that little nub under my leg and instead of getting up to look, I ran my finger along the couch until I found it!  Then I started to pick at it and work at it and wiggle it until out from the weavings of that 1960’s plaid, gold and brown couch I pulled… a feather.  

I can’t bring the Kingdom of Heaven near.  It’s near already!  What I CAN do… what I hope to do… is to help you look around and see if together, we can feel the tiny, hidden, unexpected spots here in Southern Berkshire county where the Kingdom of Heaven might just be poking through in new spots and in new ways, like a feather poking through grandma’s couch.  It’s going to take all of us looking and feeling our way together, because the Kingdom of Heaven is poking through these days in ways it never seemed to poke through before.

But, I think maybe, with a lot of grace, patience… some heavy leaning on the Holy Spirit and a REALLY good sense of humor, we might just be able to join together our holy, hope-filled ODDNESS that we’ve all been given in our Baptisms; feel where those tiny places of God’s love, hope, compassion and care are poking into world and together….  pick at ‘em, work ‘em, wiggle ‘em and move ‘em for a while, until out from the weavings of this very different and all-too-often difficult world, we’ll pull another little piece of God’s love and grace from where the Kingdom of Heaven is poking through, and share it with the world.

I told your search committee when I was here to interview, and I’ll tell you all now, there’s no place I can PULL you as a congregation that I’ve been to before.  You’re ready to walk a brand new road that NOBODY’s walked before!  That’s super exciting!  And a little bit scary too.  So, the best I can offer, is to walk with you… to try and find our way together.  That’ll mean playing a bit of “mad scientist” along the way.  Some experiments will work like a miracle and others… Well, we’ll try not to create a full-on monster, but sometimes things won’t go as planned.  But every Sunday, after we’ve all had a week of ups and downs… hopefully a week of more miracles than monsters, I’ll invite you THERE to THAT Table and together we’ll eat the Bread of Heaven and share the cup of salvation.  There, in that bread and cup we’ll all be reminded, that no matter what feathers we’ve found or monsters we’ve made that week… the Kingdom of Heaven really HAS come near, and because of that, we’ve been given all we need to put one foot in front of the other, taking one step and then another, always toward the Kingdom of Heaven.  After all, it’s not that far off you know.  The Kingdom of Heaven is actually quite near!  Amen.  

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Let's Go Sailing!

Acts 2:1-21

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

When we first moved to New Mexico we were told that Spring was the time of year that Arizona tried to get to Texas by way of New Mexico.  The Spring winds gathered dust and sand from Arizona and blew it through New Mexico and into Texas!  It wasn’t just dusty.  The winds rearranged things too.   A woman got stuck in her house when the wind rearranged the tumbleweeds so they blocked her front door.  Wind rearranges things.

When I grew up in Florida we rode out hurricane Eloise.  After that violent wind, everything was rearranged.  The trees were so rearranged in the streets that we couldn’t drive.  Electric lines were rearranged so there was no power or water.  Here in Maine, violent winds rearrange snow so your lawn is bare but right where your cars are parked there’s a drift as big as a whale!  

Violent winds blow.  They rearrange things.  It changes things. The violent wind of the Holy Spirit blows and rearranges and changes things too.  On that first Pentecost it blew the disciples right out of hiding.  That violent wind rearranged their fears.  It blew apart all the walls keeping them from doing what God had called them to do.  That Holy Wind changed them and rearranged them so much the people who saw them didn't know what to think.  

Things change when the Holy Spirit blows and the Holy Spirit is always blowing.  That Violent Wind isn’t just blowing on Pentecost and it doesn’t just blow when we wear red in church.  It’s always blowing… always rearranging… always changing.  We are not the Holy Spirit’s master by any stretch!  Our only say, when it comes to the blowing of the Holy Spirit, is whether we’ll go with it or fight against it!  Jim Croche had a song back in the early 70’s, and in addition to his advice to not tug on Superman’s cape, pull the mask off the Lone Ranger or mess around with Jim, he also advised NOT to spit into the wind!  The Spirit is blowing, rearranging and changing things.  We have no say in that.  We only choose to hoist a sail or ignore Jim Croche’s advice!    

Both choices have problems.  Hoisting the sails and going where the Spirit blows is frightening!  This is no summer breeze.  It’s a violent wind!  There’s no telling where we’ll end up!  For those of us who like things predictable and steady, that’s not our favorite kind of sailing!  The other option isn’t pretty either.  You can stand up to the wind, walk against it, get your face exfoliated with the blowing sand or you can go against the song’s recommendation and end up with an even bigger mess.

Whether we're comfortable with it or not, the Holy Spirit just keeps blowing!  Blowing, rearranging, and changing.  We can’t ever quite grasp it... like trying to grab a fistful of wind.  But every now and then when we’re paying attention, even though we can’t see it, we can see what it’s doing.  What got you out of bed, into the shower and here this morning?  The Spirit was blowing.  What had you helping at Everyday Basics, Addie’s Attic, Quilting or baking for coffee hour?  The Spirit was blowing!  You gave your time, money, talents and gifts for another person.  That was the Spirit, rearranging your life… blowing you toward the “other” and out of your locked up, mirror admiring, closed off upper room self.

We often try to pretend the Spirit isn’t blowing… that it isn’t uncomfortably rearranging and changing our lives, our families or our church.  But it is!  We try to shut the window on the Spirit.  Then, like a violent wind, it blows the window wide open and shows us again, that the wind dried up the waters after the flood... that the wind drove back the water to create a path out of Egypt... that the wind blows and dry bones get new life... that the wind blows and whistles through an empty tomb.  

Outside that upper room... out in the wind... it was scary for the disciples.  Inside was comfortable, safe and known.  Inside, looking at our past as two churches called St. Mark’s and Prince of Peace we remember it as safe and known and predictable.  Outside, over the last few years the wind has blown us together and now we’re heading outside into the wind again, searching for a new name like it's written on a slip of paper, blown around on a violent wind... all of us trying to grab it as it blows by.

But it’s time.  Time to get blown from our comfortable upper room again and step out into the wind.  It’s time for the Holy Spirit to rearrange us and change us again for the work that God is calling us into next.  It’s time to trim our sails and ride God’s Holy Wind toward our new name… a new name that will go with us into the new work God is calling us to do.  It's not a gentle wind for some of you, I know.  For everyone, emotions and feelings are swirling around like a piece of tin roof in a hurricane.  “This is good!”  “This is bad!”  “This is scary!”  “No, it’s exciting!”  “I’m not ready!”  “I’m BEYOND ready!”  All blowing like a whirlwind.  I know.  

But God is calling us to hoist our sail anyway, catch God’s unpredictable, violent wind and trust that God's Holy Wind will blow us again toward abundant life.  Remember, the Spirit's always blown formless voids into new creations; captives to freedom, exiles back home and death into life.  That Holy violent Wind has always blown God’s people toward light and life.  God’s Holy Wind is blowing us there too.  So, let’s go sailing!  Amen.