Monday, October 8, 2018

Jesus and the Petulant, Pouty, Privileged, Preppy

Mark 10:17-31

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

It’s easier for a real, live, long necked, large humped, vomit spitting, 1300 lb. dromedary to go through the eye of a standard No. 5 sewing needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.  So how are we gonna get THAT sort of camel through THAT sort of needle? 

To get our camel from this side of the needle to the other, people have paid to have it pushed through.  They’ve tried being good enough to earn it through… suffered enough to guilt it through or done the currently popular thing of bullying the camel through.  They’ve thrown away their integrity and contorted their moral-selves into an ugly, inhuman shape to try and beat it, thrash it and ram it through at ANY cost.  Then of course there’s MY way which involves an enormously large blender which sadly I’ve been told won’t work because they don’t make a blender that big?  But when it comes to camels fitting through needle’s eyes, NONE of it works!  There is simply NO WAY for bullies, moral contortionists, you, me or anyone else in the whole wide world to get that 1300 pound camel through that tiny sewing needle’s eye!  It… JUST… CAN’T… BE… DONE!  

That was the problem of that privileged, popular, professional in the story today.  He loved winning!  He was a self made man… at least that’s the story he told and the papers all happily published.  He followed all the laws… (well, at least he’d never been caught not following them.)  He had a gorgeous wife, a son to carry on his famous name, a two humped sports utility camel and a one humped sports-camel with heated leather seats parked in the garage.  Now, he just wanted to know what HE needed to do to get this one last camel through the eye of the needle.

Jesus loved this guy because he didn’t understand.  I’m still working on loving this petulant, pouty, privileged, preppy… but Jesus is a better man that me.  This guy was a winner!  In business, in negotiations, with women, with fame.  Heck!  When this guy’s tushy touched the toilet, even THAT seemed to turn to gold!  There was nothing, NOTHING he couldn’t get.  Well, nothing except this camel through the eye of a needle.  Jesus knew that because of the way he had always lived, it would be almost impossible for him to give up his winning ways.  He’d never trusted or relied on anyone.  So Jesus knew he’d likely never be able to trust or rely on Jesus either.  

Jesus told him, “To get your camel through the eye of that needle you’ll need to give up the idea you can do it yourself.  Give up buying, scheming, bullying, lying and twisting everything to try and ram it through.  It just won’t go!  YOU simply can’t get THAT camel through the eye of THAT needle.  It’s impossible.”  Well, that wasn’t an answer this guy could buy.  He’d bought everything else!  He couldn’t believe that he couldn’t buy this too!  So he turned his back on Jesus and walked away to do more of what he’d always done and keep trying to get that camel through on his own.  He simply couldn’t understand. 

In this parable, Jesus is asking us to believe what that petulant, pouting, preppy just couldn’t:  That for mortals, it’s impossible… but not for God.  For God ALL things are possible… it’s even possible for God to pull a camel through the eye of a needle.  Even possible to pull the likes of you and me through the needle’s eye of death and into life.  For God it’s not only POSSIBLE… but God’s already done it!  God’s reached through the eye of that needle that we call the Cross of Christ, grabbed hold of you and me, and whether we like it or not, God’s even reached through and pulled that petulant, pouty, privileged, preppy through as well.  God pulls ALL of creation through, from death into life.  And if God can do THAT… then… what other impossible thing might just be possible for God?

How many horrible and completely impossible things challenge our world today?  How many terrible and completely despairing things does our country face… do you face today?  How many of these things twist us into painful, writhing shapes of worry, despair, anger and rage these days?  What hopelessness plagues you? What memory haunts you?  What betrayal, what regret, what personal failing, what sin torments you?  What does YOUR giant, enormous, 1300 pound, bile spitting, completely overwhelming, dromedary of dread look like?  What does that thing look like that you have simply been unable to shove, bargain, buy or blend through the eye of the needle, so that you might know peace?  

For us mortals… getting any of those hope stomping, joy trampling, justice wrecking camels through the eye of the needle that leads to peace seems, these days, to be soul crushingly impossible… but it is particularly in these times that we must come together often and remind one another always… and LOUDLY proclaim to a world in need of hope AN INFINITELY greater truth… that while for US it might seem impossible…  heck, for us it might actually BE impossible… NONE OF IT!  NONE…OF…IT is impossible for God!  And for God it’s not just possible… IT…IS…FINISHED!  

In a way I believe only through faith… When Jesus said, “It is finished” on the cross he wasn’t just talking about his life.  He was also telling us that the God of infinite love, compassion and grace (who also happens to be the God of infinite possibilities) was also finished.  Finished pulling EVERY SINGLE ONE of the universe’s most impossible, most vile, most heart breaking camels through the impossible eye of that needle and into the Kingdom of God!  

Do not be overwhelmed by the stampede of impossible camels trampling our world today.  The camels of poverty, sexism, immigrant child camps, climate change, gun violence, racism, oppressive hierarchies and all the rest.  We are loved even when we can not wrap our minds around this truth:  That our most terrible camels… our world’s most horrible camels… they are no match for our God... the God for whom ALL things… all things… ALL THINGS... really ARE… possible.  Amen.  

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

It's A Trap... Again!

Mark 10:2-16

Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.


This is a doozy of a lesson and if you read this thing without regard to context or perspective you'll just see Jesus being an unfeeling poop and taking one terrible sounding law and swapping it out for something worse.  While that’s an option many unfortunately take, that’s not what Jesus intended.  

The Pharisee’s were out to trap Jesus by getting him to take a side on the hot button issue of the day.  In Jesus’ time, divorce and remarriage had the equivalent political heat of the Brett Kavanaugh hearings of today!  Jesus knew the Pharisees really didn’t care what Jesus thought.  They just knew that if they could get him to take a side, ANY side, a big group of people would start hating Jesus and THAT would be a “win” for the Pharisees.  

Jesus wasn’t about to do something that would further help the Pharisees divide people.  Jesus was about building up loving relationships, not tearing them down!  So, Jesus did his Biblical Aikido and took the Pharisee’s attack and turned it until they were suddenly talking, not about the law, but about people… real life human beings… and the real life human need to care for one another.  Jesus forced them to see that God’s desire isn’t so much for people to spend a lifetime in marriage, but for marriage to be a loving human relationship filled with joy, commitment, equality, health and wholeness that lasts a lifetime! 

Turning that trap on the Pharisees revealed God’s truth: that loving, mutually uplifting human relationships were what God cared about way more than a legal contract called marriage.  Jesus turned that trap from a focus on paper to a focus on people.  People who live real, messy, beautiful, horrible, wondrous, tragic and lovely lives!  THOSE are the people Jesus cares about!  People are who Jesus came to lift up!  

You see, Moses put the original law in place as a way to try to care for the most vulnerable in the midst of the inevitable broken relationships that happen in our messy, wonderful lives.  In Moses' time, women who were cast aside in a divorce would suddenly be without resources, without legal standing, without a home.  The original law was an attempt to care for people who had become the victims of human failings in a male privileged world.  While the old Law recognized that brokenness, Jesus simply couldn’t allow the Pharisees to twist something, which was created to CARE for people, into something that would allow people to ignore the reality that when people are divorced, for whatever reason, there is always a real, profound, and life changing pain.  

After dealing with the Pharisees abruptly, Jesus goes to talk with the disciples privately... to try and get them to really understand.  Jesus knew that because marriage involves humans, marriage would always be both a wonderful and imperfect thing… mostly because we humans are both wonderful and imperfect.  So, when marriage for a lifetime doesn’t work out, Jesus insists this is not something to take lightly.  He wants us to remember there are beautiful and broken people involved, above everything else.  Jesus used that over-the-top analogy with adultery because he really wanted the disciples to understand the pain involved.  No matter WHY divorce happens, divorce hurts, even when it's the absolutely right thing to do… it hurts.  It hurts the couple, the families, the community… it hurts.  Remarriage too, Jesus wants us to remember, will inevitably carry with it into the new relationship, some of the pain and hurt of the past.  That must not be ignored or the pain of the past will be carried into the new relationship.  Jesus isn’t saying, “No remarriage!”  Jesus simply won’t let the Pharisees or any of us just blow this off as no big deal!  Jesus won’t let us hide behind legal technicalities and pretend we can skirt the pain of broken relationships with legalese.  People are involved… REAL, LIVE, people… and NO law has the power to erase the people who have been a part of our lives, either for the good they brought or the difficulties they brought.  So when relationships break, Jesus is telling the disciples that what they need is our unconditional love.  That’s what Jesus was telling them with the last bit of this lesson.  

It’s not a coincidence that this lesson ends with Jesus telling the disciples to let the children come.  That bit's not here by mistake.  It’s here to help us interpret this doozy of a lesson.  As kids grow into the gift of life they’ve been given by God, they don’t ever do it flawlessly.  You’ve been a kid.  You know!  We all too often have to learn the hard way that our parents aren’t as dumb as we thought and that often consequences involve some sort of pain.  But regardless of how we screw up childhood, our parents open their arms to us, tell us to come in for some love and then tell us to get back up and live life.  God’s love is like that… Unconditional… and no matter what we do along the way of life, God loves us, forgives us and sends us back out into the world to give life another try.

So it is with God’s gifts of human relationships and marriage.  As we grow into those gifts we don’t ever do those flawlessly either.  You’ve been in a relationship.  You know!  We all too often have to learn the hard way that relationships are challenging and difficult, along with being beautiful and wonderful.  Often we need to learn the hard way that the consequences of broken relationships involve some sort of pain.  But regardless of how we screw up a relationship or have a relationship screwed up on us, our God opens wide the Divine embrace, just as Jesus did for the children, and tells us to come in for some love and then to get back up and go again.  

God’s love is unconditional and no matter what happens in our relationships with husbands and wives, partners and exes…  God loves us, forgives us and sends us back out into the world, to give loving, caring, mutually uplifting, compassionate and joyful relationships and even marriage another try.  Because it's in relationship that God shows us the best of living life.  Amen.  

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Real Life Lives Beyond Our Tribes

Mark 9:38-50

John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

“For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”



John said to Jesus, ‘teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he wasn’t following us. He wasn’t one of us. He wasn’t doing it the same as us. He wasn’t part of our tribe.’ We live as tribal people. I am of the tribe of Karas... the American, Swedish, Czech and Scotch-Irish tribes too. I am of the Black Bear and Wolfpack tribes. I am of the Lutheran and the Episcopalian tribes. I belong to the scientist tribe and the clergy tribe. I am of the white, straight, male tribe and Jesus… Jesus called his disciples, calls me, calls you and calls EVERYONE to leave our tribal lives and walk into a new life in Christ… a life which has the power to unite all that has ever been torn apart by the destructive tribalism of race, gender, country, position, wealth, power and all the rest because real life… REAL life… lives beyond our tribes. 

“But Jesus”, we say, “We love our tribes!” I know I do! My N.C. State Wolfpack… My Maine Black Bears… the college of my heart always! We love our tribes because they help us know where we fit. At the retreat I just went to before vacation all the priests introduced themselves by describing their tribes! I told them I’m of the Lutheran tribe, came from the Maine Diocese tribe and the New England Synod tribe, was educated by the Southern Seminary tribe. Our tribes help us feel comfortable, familiar and safe… help us feel at home… help define where we fit. I go here. You fit there. This goes before that. That goes right here and the other thing goes over there. So why, if our tribes help us describe who we are, is Jesus calling us out of our tribal lives?  

Because, REAL life lives beyond our tribes. Jesus calls us out of tribalism because tribalism, even with all it’s comforting aspects, ultimately holds us back from walking into the full, REAL, life we were created to live. Tribalism, the openly sinister kinds like white nationalism, but even the more comfortable kinds like patriotism, ultimately divide us rather than unite us. So, Jesus tells us, staying stuck in our tribes inevitably feels like hell because our tribes are simply not where we were made to belong… because we belong together!  

Now, in this lesson Jesus acknowledges leaving our tribes is no easy thing. Leaving our tribes will likely feel as wonderful as cutting off our hand. It will probably feel as pleasant as gouging out our eye or cutting off our foot. Which is one of the reasons being challenged to give up old hierarchies and patterns and tribes makes us writhe and squirm and troll and fight in ugly and illogical ways… we fight to maintain our position within our tribes because the tribal life is at least a KNOWN life, whereas this new life Jesus calls us into is in that nebulous region called “faith.” We’re afraid that giving up our place… our position… our tribe… will be the end of life as we know it… and you know why it feels that way? Because giving all that up IS the end of life as we know it AND yet… REAL life lives beyond our tribes.

In this Gospel, Jesus tells us that as painful and fearful and agonizing as it is to leave our tribal lives, that pain is really NOTHING compared to staying stuck where we are. Because down there at the bottom of that dug-in tribal trench… that’s where distrust, hate, anger and venom for those outside our tribe festers… that’s where all the bile and rage for those who challenge our tribe’s place burns. Down in that trench it burns like a fire from the outside and it eats at us like a worm from the inside. 

Our REAL life… the life God created us to live, is not down in that dug-in, festering trench. Our REAL life is experienced out of the trenches of tribalism, walking with Jesus, hand in hand, arm in arm with the rest of creation as equals. This doesn’t demand we give up our individuality or the things that give spice to our lives… things like our families or our traditions or our favorite dishes. It doesn’t mean giving up our cherished customs or even our favorite sports-ball teams… they all have a place. These things can and do add a wonderful and beautiful SPICE to this meal of life Jesus is calling us to share, but they simply can’t be our main meal. Our REAL life lives beyond our tribes. There, around THAT table, where as equals, we eat the bread and share the wine. THAT’S the main meal! In different times and different places and with different friends, that meal is spiced in different ways and that’s a beautiful and wonderful thing! Here we use a little Lutherpalian-fusion seasoning, across the street they like a UCC dry rub, and down the other way they use a Roman Catholic marinade! All those different spices are fantastic! After all, as Jesus says, “Whoever is not against us is for us!”

We’re all painfully aware of what it looks like as people try to rabidly hold on to the old hierarchies of their tribalism, the hierarchies that pit one group of people over another. It looks like hell!  The white tribe over the brown and male over female, straight over gay and rich over poor… That’s the tribalism that burns from the outside and the worm of fear that eats at us from the inside. Jesus calls us out of that burning, worm festered trench… Jesus calls us to leave that way of “so-called living” fully behind and walk into a new life… an abundant life… in Christ. 

This is Christ Trinity’s calling for this time and place. To not just TELL our neighbors about it but to SHOW our neighbors what living a REAL life looks like when we live beyond our tribes. I actually think we do that pretty well already, but maybe we don’t take enough time to really see what we’re doing! Because when we serve free hotdogs on the lawn for the whole town, when we share a patch of shade with a traveler on their way, when we stop in to check on someone or cook a meal to say “see you next spring,” we’ll often will just wave our hand and say “Oh, that’s nothing, really.” But it’s not just us being “nice” you know and it really is something… something incredibly powerful.  It’s modeling for each other and for our neighbors and for the world what life looks like beyond the trenches of tribalism. It’s not just talking about the life God created us to live, but LIVING the life God created us to live and SHOWING one another the joy of that new life in Christ! When we do those little things we’re doing nothing less than joining with Jesus in a ministry of calling the world out of those festering trenches and into a beautiful life… a REAL life lived beyond our tribes. Amen.  

Sunday, September 16, 2018

This Means Something

Mark 8:27-38

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

As Christians, one of the things we believe is that Jesus is both, fully human and fully divine. Now, I’ve never been that good at math but my math is good enough to know that being BOTH 100% human and 100% divine, just doesn’t add up. How can anything, or anyone, be 100% one thing AND 100% another thing? The mind gets boggled… well… MY mind gets boggled! 

Most people really don’t like their minds being completely boggled all the time and so, most of us… including me… tend to think of Jesus as mostly one or the other. I tend to do that in the same direction Peter did. Me and Peter… we like the Divine part best. “Who do you say that I am?” You’re the Messiah! The Son of the Living God, King of Kings, Lord of Lords! WooHoo! Go, Fight, Win, Divinity!

Which worked GREAT for Peter… for exactly three verses and then it all comes crashing down with, “Get behind me Satan!” The truth is, the 100% human part of Jesus, much to mine and Peter’s chagrin, insists on equal billing. Jesus demands we walk the knife’s edge and give Jesus BOTH his full divinity AND his full humanity. As I worked on this lesson, I could clearly see that, but honestly, I still really didn’t like it all that much. So I did what preachers do, and went way back to the beginning of Mark to see if I could preach around this thing! Instead, this is what I found:

Mark’s Gospel starts with John the Baptist, Jesus’s Baptism and the voice of God saying “You’re my Son!” DIVINITY! Great! But IMMEDIATELY Jesus is pushed out into the desert to be tempted by Satan. HUMANITY. Jesus walks by the sea, calls a few fishermen, teaches, casts out demons and heals Simon’s mother in law and when word gets out he heals the whole town. DIVINITY. Then while it was still dark he snuck out and went to a secluded place to pray and recover. HUMANITY. He tried to move on to do more teaching and was stopped by a leper, whom he healed. DIVINITY. Then got thrown out of a temple for his teaching. HUMANITY. Told a paralytic to “Take up your mat and walk!” DIVINITY. Got in a theology fight with the Pharisees. HUMANITY. Healed a withered hand. DIVINITY. Went out to sea to get away. HUMANITY. Huge crowds follow and called him the SON OF GOD. DIVINITY. Fights with his family who thinks he’s crazy. HUMANITY. Heals a Demoniac. DIVINITY. Escapes in a Boat. HUMANITY. Heals a bleeding woman and raises a dead girl. DIVINITY. Gets rejected in his hometown. HUMANITY. Sends the disciples out to heal people and they did! DIVINITY. Grieves the brutal death of his friend John the Baptist. HUMANITY. Feeds five thousand! DIVINITY! Sends the disciples off and climbed a mountain to pray exhausted. HUMANITY. Walks on water. DIVINITY. Fights with the Pharisees and goes up North to get away. HUMANITY. Heals the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter and the old Jewish deaf man and fed four thousand. DIVINITY. Escapes the crowd to get away to Caesarea Philippi. HUMANITY. Asks the disciples “Who do you say that I am” and Peter responds for the group and says “DIVINITY” and Jesus tells them he must suffer and die in his full… HUMANITY. Peter says “GOD FORBID YOUR HUMANITY” and Jesus says to Peter, “GET BEHIND ME SATAN!”  

I know that was long, but to be fair, that was the entire first HALF of Mark’s Gospel! But do you see it? This means something! Jesus going back and forth between showing his HUMANITY and then his DIVINITY! That’s taken me 20 years of wearing this dress almost every Sunday to see! And what I’m beginning to see is that you and I… if we’re honest… we know NOT ONE THING about how to do miraculous healings, raise the dead or walk on water (unless you’ve been holding out on me!). But you and I… we know a LOT about desert times, fights with bullies, and living with families who think we’re crazy. You and I can relate to being tired, worn, and not acting out of our best selves. You and I know all about trying to get some peace, only to be tracked down by a kid, an office, a full-on-real emergency, or a perceived emergency about potato salad. You and I know what it is to be rejected. You and I know the real and deep pain of the death of someone we love. You and I know what it is to think about and face our own mortality. You and I… we KNOW humanity.  

So, Jesus SHOWS us his humanity, because THAT’s the part of Jesus that we can recognize more easily in ourselves… and in his humanity he’s given us a door. A door through which we’re being invited over and over and over again to walk with Jesus from our very recognizable communion with his humanity into the much more difficult to see, but just as real, communion with his Divinity! St. Paul said it this way, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

I think, we’re being shown, over and over and over again the fullness of Jesus’s humanity so we can better see ourselves in that fully human person of Jesus. THEN, seeing ourselves in Jesus… Jesus becomes a person who is easy to relate to… easy to walk with… easy to live with. Then, as we walk that walk, day after day, walking and living with Jesus and our lives continue to grow in compassion, love, generosity and grace… grow into the Jesus WAY of living… we eventually walk right into the Truth… that we not only walk and live and share in Jesus’s humanity, but in some mysterious way… through a complete and unimaginable gift of immeasurable love… we’ve also been walking and living, fully wrapped up in and fully embraced by Jesus’s Divinity. And in Jesus’ Divine embrace, we not only walk toward life… but WE… HAVE… LIFE! A life of meaning, purpose, dignity and worth. And in that amazing gift which comes to us free in the waters of Baptism we’ve been given everything we need to play our part in the work God has given us to do, which as Presiding Bishop Michael Curry is fond of saying, is to “change the world from the nightmare it is for so many into the dream that God intends.”  By walking with Jesus we will find we have all the humanity and all the divinity we need to do this work in the world.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Circles

The Holy Gospel According to St. Mark, the 7th Chapter

From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

At the consecration of the first building of this church, this is part of what was written:  

“We have a building capable of seating one hundred persons and would be glad to see every space filled, whenever services are held.  The seats are FREE, and we assure the inhabitants of this and adjoining towns, that the church was not built simply to accommodate ‘ourselves,’ neither are the services or the Sunday School conducted with any such intention…Our idea was that its use and purpose should be to further the cause of Christianity, believing that one soul in the sight of God and the angels is the peer of any other, whether it be possessed by a person of mean estate, or of high degree; whether he be white or black, artisan, farmer, merchant, priest or king… Each and every one, of whatever faith, or of no faith, will find a generous welcome.”

That’s from OUR 1868 welcome statement! 1868! 1868. It reminds me of that little verse by Edwin Markham:  

He drew a circle that shut me out –
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in.

It is the drawing of circles that our lessons challenge us with today. Who should be drawn inside as recipient of God’s grace?  Who is worthy of healing?  Who deserves the power of Christ to work in their lives?  Who’s “in” and who’s “out”?  When that GENTILE…FOREIGN… WOMAN... asked for help with her DAUGHTER..., she should have been out four times over!  She was a Gentile... OUT!  A woman...OUT OUT!  A foreigner...OUT OUT OUT!  And asking about a child?... OUT OUT OUT OUTIDY OUT!!!! 

Now, some would say that Jesus saw this confrontation coming and his ugly response to this woman was just Jesus playing into the cultural, circle-drawing stereotypes of his day on purpose, to prove a point, but I’m not so sure. I think there’s at least an even chance that his internal editor had run out of juice for the day and this woman got a full dose of Jesus’ humanity. He was fully human, after all, and he had just had a fight with the Pharisees. Those sorts of fights take a toll. So Jesus left town and went up North, not just to the Middle Eastern equivalent of Maine but to Middle Eastern Equivalent of Aroostook County Maine! He got WAY away hoping to recover from that very normal human emotional drain, only to be tracked down one more time by this woman! We’ve all said hurtful things when we’re tired and worn. One of the things this lesson reminds me of is that Jesus was fully human and in  that way, a lot like me.

But whether Jesus saw this coming or responded at first out of his less-than-best self, it really doesn’t matter in the end. The take home lesson is the same!  God’s love had the wit to win!  God drew a circle and took her in!  God’s grace, love, healing, and salvation is boundless.  God’s love draws a big enough circle to include a desperate gentile woman with a demon possessed daughter! But wait, there’s more!  
The next little story about the deaf man makes sure we REALLY get the point of this lesson. It was a foreign woman before but now it’s a Jewish man. She had chased Jesus down. He was brought to Jesus by others. She was asking about her daughter. It was he, himself who was deaf and speechless. 

These two stories together make it clear, the who, what, how or when just don’t matter so once again, God draws a circle big enough for the likes of HIM... and here's what these two lessons together pound home... if God can draw a circle to include the likes of HER… and if God can draw a circle to include the likes of HIM, perhaps… just maybe we might begin to believe that God might even draw a circle large enough to include the likes of you... or maybe… just MAYBE… even the likes… of ME.  

The world draws circles. Female and male, white and black, gay and straight, immigrants, refugees, natives and aliens, conservatives and liberals, Episcopalians and Lutherans, Decaf and Regular!  Those circles include some… but also always exclude others. BUT you see, when Jesus stuck his fingers in that deaf man’s ears and said “Be Opened” he was opening WAY more than just a deaf man’s ears!  When Jesus said “Be Opened!” He opened ALL the circles that had been drawn around that man… circles labeling him as possessed, cursed, outcast, disabled, broken and unwelcome… all of those circles that had excluded him before were now ripped wide open and all the love, grace, healing, compassion, inclusion, and life came flooding in!

Now one woman and one man drawn into God’s grace is great but that isn’t the end of this story. On the cross, Jesus said, “It is finished!” and as the curtain in the Temple ripped from top to bottom… in that moment, Jesus stuck his fingers in the ears of all creation, spit at death and the devil and tore open every circle that had ever been drawn from top to bottom for EVERYONE and all of creation! And to this day, God in Christ keeps ripping wide open the circles the world draws, faster than anyone can draw them, build them or tweet them and God draws them so they include EVERYONE!  Our challenge, as individuals and as a church, to keep drawing the circles we inevitably draw in our more human moments, wider and wider and wider so that each day, even when we’re tired, we draw our circles more and more like God draws circles… until our circles are big enough to include all of creation, just like God’s circles!

Our WALI group (We Already Live It) has been working on just that! They are, right now, crafting a new welcoming statement to expand the circle of our church’s original 1868 welcoming statement around people who were not even on the radar of our foremothers and forefathers in 1868… which we shouldn’t fault them for since there wasn’t even radar in 1868! But working in those founder’s inclusive spirit, who made the most radical welcome they could possibly imagine in their day, our group is now working on a statement to add all the people we’ve grown better able to see over the last 150 years.  

I am so thankful for the amazingly inclusive, founding DNA of our congregation. I’m so thankful that it is still alive and active and at work to this day, calling us with love, to keep breaking open old circles and allowing God’s love and grace to rush right in! May we always draw ever bigger circles so that one day the whole of creation will know and experience the welcome of God’s incredible love through us. Amen. 

Thursday, August 23, 2018

All In

John 6:56-69 

Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”


“Have you been saved?”  When I’m asked that I say “YES”... because I am... and, well... because I like to mess with people who ask that question.  Then, when I’m inevitably asked next, WHEN was I saved?  I say “On the first Easter, about 2000 years ago!”  Now, I know THAT'S not the answer they’re looking for, but it’s TRUE... and I like to mess with people.     

You see, God’s done all the saving in Christ’s life, death and resurrection.  Like the hymn says, “The strife is O’er, the Battle Won!”  On that first Easter, God made the salvation decision for all of creation and God’s decision was, “You’re ALL IN!”  Our tradition is pretty good at remembering that, but sometimes we forget there actually are SOME decisions that ARE for us to make... NOT decisions that make or break salvation... but decisions about how we choose to live in RESPONSE to that gift we’ve been given.  

It’s like the decision Joshua asked the people of Israel to make.  The people were IN the Promised Land.  They were there, so their decision would not determine if they got there or not…'cause...they were there!  Their decision was how they would now RESPOND.  The crowds in the Gospel lesson faced a similar decision.  How would they RESPOND to the gift which God had given them in Jesus?  Jesus was there.  The gift was given.  A decision to not follow Jesus wouldn’t cause God to vacuum Jesus back up to heaven and take salvation away!  But the crowds and the disciples DID have a decision to make.  Would they drink in the Jesus life... a life where they wouldn’t be in complete control... a life filled with mystery and an uncertain future... a life that led them to do what was in the other’s best interest instead of a life focused on what’s in it for me and what makes ME feel good, OR... would they go a different way?    

In today’s Gospel, a huge number of people chose to go a different way.  The mystery of the flesh and blood was just too much.  The lack of control was too much.  So they decided to take a different path.  To stop following the Jesus Way of living.  After they left, Jesus turned to the disciples and asked them to decide as well.  Would they continue to follow or not?  You see, neither Joshua nor Jesus wanted the people to “PLAY” at their faith any longer.  Both challenged the people... to EITHER go ALL IN and BE God’s people ALL THE WAY or don’t.  A wishy washy fence sitting faith, wasn’t an option any more. 

I think that’s where we are in the church these days.  These days we wring our hands about declining church membership and some look fondly back to the days when our culture and grandma successfully guilted folks into church membership.  But I think this new world we live in might just be a gift because… well… you’re here!  And you’re here not because it makes you look like a good American to your neighbors and not because it makes grandma happy and not because you need a church membership to advance in your career.  You’re here... at least I hope you’re here... because you have come to the decision that Jesus REALLY DOES have the words of eternal life.  You’re here because you’ve decided that drinking in the Jesus life... a life filled with generosity, compassion, radical inclusion, love and grace... brings your life and this world a tiny bit closer to the Kingdom of God every day…  Because living the Jesus Way leads you bit by bit toward a life overflowing with meaning, purpose, direction and joy!  You’re here because you’d rather be part of a smaller group of dedicated, passionate, authentic, self declared saints and sinners, than part of a huge group of fake, plastic, superficial people trying to satisfy their deepest longings with things like power, wealth and fame which, God knows, will never come close to filling anybody up.  

The people answered Joshua, saying “We have decided to follow the LORD, for he is our God.”  Simon Peter answered for the group, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”  You and I have the same decision to make... but it’s really not just one decision.  It's about a million little decisions… those tiny decisions we make in every moment of every day of our lives.  In each of those particular moments, will we choose to live that moment the Jesus Way, OR the world’s way?  Will we welcome the stranger or send them away?  Will we feed the hungry or demonize them?  Will we stop to heal the sick or walk down the other side of the road?  Will we calm the storm or stir the pot?  Will we tell the truth or tell a lie?  Will we forgive the thief or seek revenge?  Will we make a friend or create an enemy?  Will we admit our faults or double down on them? Will we celebrate diversity or try to homogenize it?  Will we say words that build up or words that tear down?  Will we crucify others to get our way or will we raise others up to new life? 

We all have a million decisions just like that to make every day, in every seemingly insignificant interaction with every person we meet.  The Good News is that no matter if we choose the Jesus Way in one particular moment, OR fall short of the Glory of God and make a choice out of our fearfulness and brokeness, God’s decision FOR US… God’s love for us... remains unshakable and true.  

This next week, may God give each of us the power and the courage in each moment of our lives to choose to live our faith “ALL IN”... to fully drink in the Way, the Truth and the Life which God has given us freely in Christ.  May we drink in that Holy, that Eternal, that Transformed Life we have been given, and may we courageously choose in each of those moments to respond to the gift we’ve been given in the Jesus Way.  Amen.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Gnawing on Jesus

John 6:51-58

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”


I’m here to tell you… Barbecue. Is. Serious.  It demands serious time, dedication, and effort to make, AND to eat.  Twelve hours for pulled pork on the smoker to make.  A roll of paper towels and both hands to eat.  But even though it demands a serious investment of time and effort… it is SO VERY worth it!  The prep, the rubs, sauces, checking the fire at two in the morning… all that time and all that effort... it’s all worth it for the wonderful, succulent, juicy, sweet and spicy richness that is barbecue.

Jesus said to the people, “Very truly I tell you, unless you gnaw on my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life!”  The translators REALLY toned this one down.  Jesus didn’t say “eat” here.  Jesus did not say, “wearing the correct dinner jacket, one is to take one’s correct fork and sitting up straight, with one’s linen napkin in one’s lap, one is to take nice, polite, little bites.”  NOPE!  Jesus said GNAW!  He said roll up your sleeves, put your elbows on the table, grab the bone with both hands and GNAW!  Jesus said, “Get into it!  Get obsessed with it!  Get messy!  Get it stuck in your teeth.  Get sauce on your face and don’t expect to keep your shirt clean!”  Because NONE of that matters!  All that matters is the GNAWING… GNAWING all the way down to the bone!  Which sounds awesome when we’re talking about baby back ribs at a picnic table with rolls of paper towels for napkins, but in this Gospel lessen, Jesus ain’t talkin’ about baby back pork ribs.  He’s talking about baby back Jesus ribs here and that, understandably, freaked people out! 

Having my rabbi friend here last week reminded me of how shocking all this talk of eating flesh and drinking blood really was for the first people who heard this.  Many of us have heard it our whole lives, so the shock of it ends up just washing over us after all these years, but Jesus really said, “Those who gnaw on my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life.”  Then and now, those words were meant to be over the top, out of bounds, deal breaker… shocking!    

It’s no wonder the crowd couldn’t wrap their minds around what Jesus was saying.  It’s simply not something that is possible to wrap our minds around!  Now, lots of people over the last 2000 years have used a large volume of enormously sized words to try to explain all this, but I haven’t heard anyone who can fully explain it yet, no matter how many words of various sizes they use.  This idea of gnawing on Jesus, even when we set it into the context of the Eucharistic meal we share, is still mind blowing!  How is this Communion meal fully Christ’s Body and Blood?  It’s a mystery!  How, in this meal, are we given eternal life... it’s a mystery!  But “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them” is what Jesus was, and is, saying.  The honest truth is that nobody’s got this one all figured out.  

But, I think at least a part of what Jesus was trying to communicate with this incredibly graphic imagery, is that discipleship isn’t something that can be done in between the other parts of our lives.  Following Jesus isn’t a drive-through-window-meal on your way from one thing to another.  This shocking imagery is, at least in part, calling us to something that is all-encompassing… a whole-life-involving project that is much more like making barbecue which demands tending fires, cooking sauces, making rubs, mopping meat and smoking it low and slow for lots and lots of time and then settling in to a meal that will take hours and hours to eat, rather than eating something cooked in a minute and grabbed from a hand reaching out through a window.  That shocking imagery calls us to settle in and completely make Jesus a part of every moment of our lives because Jesus is the source of all goodness and life.  He is our true food and we are being called to invest EVERYTHING... all our time, all our skills and all our being into consuming the Jesus Way, the Jesus Truth, the Jesus Life, so that just like the food we eat, Jesus too becomes a part of every molecule of our bodies and the fuel we use to live our lives.

Like an amazing feast of real honest to goodness barbecue, Jesus is asking each one of us to invest REAL time, not just left-over or in-between time… and do the spiritual-practice equivalent of mixing spices, massaging in the rub and then patiently, slowly, passionately, smoking our faith over genuine hard wood.  Jesus is asking us to slow down and really see those people around us… to see and then care for those who live on the margins… to study, pray and live each day with deep care, patience and passion.  Jesus is calling us to gnaw on the gift of God’s infinite love and unconditional grace, and make that an integral part of every molecule of our being, so that the Jesus Way of living and loving ends up seeping out of our pores into the world like garlic through the skin.  

Discipleship isn't a McRib sandwich grabbed on a Sunday afternoon on our way to something else.  Discipleship is more like REAL barbecue.  Lovingly, miraculously, patiently and beautifully transforming something tough… someone tough… into an amazing thing that is real and fully authentic… gathering family and friends… sojourners and strangers… lovers and losers… rebels and refugees… gathering EVERYONE around God’s Table where there is a seat and a place set for EVERYONE.  Discipleship is all of us, making together, the deep commitment to gnaw and to savor every morsel of life we’ve been given, in the company of all our fellow saints and sinners… all of us together, reveling in each bone of that rich food filled with marrow, laughing and sharing together those well aged wines strained clear and going through roll after roll of the classiest sort of paper towel napkins, enjoying to the very fullest, the immeasurable sweetness and the beautiful spiciness of the abundant life that comes to us free… as a complete gift… as we gnaw on Jesus.  Amen.