Thursday, December 6, 2018

Looking Forward AND Back

Malachi 3:1-4

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

In 1967 I was born and the movie Dr. Doolittle premiered in theaters. Now, some of you are thinking, “1967! You’re a BABY!” and at the very same time, there are others of you who are saying, “1967! Isn’t that when dinosaurs still roamed the earth!” The truth is that 1967 is BOTH… it WAS just yesterday AND it was, at the same time, millions of years ago when dinosaurs still roamed the earth. Advent is like that too.  In that same year Dr. Doolittle, who could talk to the animals, had among many animals, a Pushmi-Pullyu, which some of you will remember was a llama with two heads and no tail. My advice to you is not to dwell on how that works biologically. That basically ate up my whole Monday! But Advent is like that llama too, both looking forward AND equally looking back. 

Advent is meant to be two different, but equal, things… all at the same time. We see it in the lessons we hear in this season. Last week we had apocalyptic, future looking, end of the world stuff, and as the season progresses we’ll have more “get ready for the baby Jesus” lessons. We see it in the colors for Advent too. There’s purple, which like Lent, has a penitential flavor to it… a better watch out, better not cry, sort of color… because baby Jesus is coming to town. But then there’s blue, which challenges us to be HOPEFUL that God will break into the world again, just as God has before, and smooth out all the world’s remaining rough places! 

 Advent is supposed to be a time to remember BOTH that very first Christmas, with Mary and Joseph and the Christ child, lying in a manger… AND it’s a time to look forward to God’s next amazing breaking-into-our-world time which is yet to come. It’s supposed to prepare us for that nostalgic look BACK to an amazing miracle that happened in a very real, very specific, point in history… The fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruled over a very real place that remains hard to pronounce... AND Advent is supposed to also be a time to look FORWARD to a time when “the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.” To a time when God will complete making the world fully as God intendeds it to be. A time when God will remove the impurities from the world… things like hatred, hunger, racism, poverty and greed in the same way a refiner would remove the impurities from silver ore, or like a Fuller… who is someone who “fulls” as you all know... would clean the dirt and oils out of wool fabric so it’s clean and white and pure. 

Our culture today isn’t very comfortable with two different things being true at the same time. I’ve preached about that before, but in spite of my preaching it hasn’t gotten much better.  Our culture would like us all to just pick one thing OR the other, and cut out all this BOTH/AND junk. So there are folks who say, purple for Advent is a terrible idea and blue is the only appropriate color, while others insist that the introduction of blue for Advent is some sort of plot to kill all that was good and right in the church! There are folks who say that a penitential attitude for Advent is WAY too depressing! Why do we have to think about the impurities in our lives and our world when this is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year? And at the same time, others insist that we beat back even the smallest hint of that first Christmas until December 24th at midnight at the very earliest!  

The reality is that Advent is meant to be BOTH, from the first Sunday of the season, right up the the last! The colors are meant to be BOTH.  Purple is both the color of penitentially preparing for the Lord coming into the world at the second coming AND it’s the color of royalty, for the King of Kings and Lord of Lords born in a manger! Blue is both the color of hopeful expectation that our remembrance of the first Christmas is coming soon AND the color of Mary’s “yes” to God... and our hope-filled “yes” to God breaking into our lives today and our looking forward to God breaking into our world at the end of time.  

Advent is BOTH a season to look BACK and give thanks that God sent a light to shine into every darkness... a light that no darkness could ever overcome, AND it’s a season for us to make paths straight now… to fill in the potholes in the paths of our own lives and in the lives of people around us. It’s a time to straighten out injustices, lower the mountains of privilege that keep others from being fully the person God created them to be, and smooth out the rough patches in the lives of ourselves and in the lives of our neighbors. 

Advent is a look back to the first Christmas when God broke into the world in the unexpected form of a baby AND a look forward to the moment God will break into the world again in a whole new unexpected way! Advent is penitential with refiner’s fire and fuller’s soap cleaning us up to be ready to have Emmanuel… God with us again at Christmas AND it’s a time to look forward in hopeful anticipation and prepare for the time when the King of Kings will reign, and weeping and crying will be no more. Advent is purple AND Advent is blue. Advent is penitential AND a time of hope. Advent is a look back AND a look into the future. My prayer for all of us this Advent is that all of us will make room in our hearts, minds, prayers and preparations for both. Amen.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Look Up, Lean In, and Live!

Luke 21:25-36

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 

“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

“Drunkenness” I get. “Worries of this life” I also get… by the bucketful.  But “dissipation”… that one I had to look up. Dissipation, it turns out, is wasting stuff or squandering things. Spending money, time, or resources and getting nothing in return. It’s basically running around like a chicken with your head cut off! It’s spinning your wheels. It’s spending tons of energy but not making any progress. It’s not all bad though, because “dissipation” is also how the brakes on your car work. You push the brake pedal and your brakes change forward momentum into heat which is then lost or “dissipated” into the atmosphere. Now, hold onto that last definition in particular while I tell you something you already know.
We live in fairly horrible times. I told you it was something you already knew! We live in a time where I’m daily tempted to say, “The day is surely coming, says the Lord” and I’m not talking about the good stuff coming either!  It’s a time where it feels like watching the news blots the sun out in the sky and there is not shortage of distress among nations! We live in a time where we are overwhelmed by noise. Noise so loud it’s like the roar of the sea! Like a never ending set of waves crashing over us, knocking us off our feet, over and over again with wave after wave of tear gassing children, racism, hatred, mass shootings and all the rest. It makes us faint from fear and foreboding.

One of the ways folks handle this modern, 24 hour news-cycle-apocalypse of horrible-ness, is the same way folks in Jesus’ day tried to handle it… with drunkenness and worry! Even today, folks try to drink it, shop it, medicate it, or eat it away. A friend recently shared a magazine cover that promised  you could even “decorate” the troubles of the world away for the holidays! So living in ways that try to escape the crazy horrible-ness of the world is one way to deal with life out there.  

And it turns out that just like in Jesus’ day, some folks also try to use dissipation. As the crazy train of life barrels down the tracks, folks are tempted at to pull the world’s emergency cord, get the engineer to slam on the brakes, so we can get off in some idealistic bygone era. A time when our far-from-accurate memories remember things were better… when the world wasn’t so frightening… back to a time when things were GREAT. Unfortunately, brakes mean “dissipation” and when folks try to slam on the world’s brakes, all that crazy energy of the world barreling down the tracks on this runaway train we call life, inevitably gets turned into white-hot heat which shows up as hatred, anger, bigotry, racism, violence and rage.

Neither escaping the world nor dissipating the world’s crazy turns out to be the faithful ways Jesus recommends for dealing with a troubling world, either then or now. Neither numbing ourselves NOR trying to grind the world to a halt will bring us the peace we all so desperately desire. Instead, Jesus says the way to deal with a world barreling down the tracks through crazy town after crazy town, is to STAND UP, RAISE YOUR HEADS, LOOK UP and SEE your redemption drawing near… Jesus says, we need to LOOK UP, LEAN IN and LIVE! 

Each alert, headline, and piece of breaking news begs us look down at our phones, look down at the headlines, and look down at this world and fully plumb the depths of it’s  horrible-ness. But with heads constantly down, we end up festering in it… immobilized. Jesus tells us instead to “LOOK up!” Because when we raise our heads and look up, what we’ll see is that Christ is present among us… standing right beside us… even in all this mess!  And in some mysterious way, God in Christ, is making even this crazy, horrible-ness into something new! 

That’s one reason each week some guy in an attention grabbing outfit, stands up there, with a shiny bald head, holding a shiny silver patten, and a shiny silver chalice as high as he can. So that everyone (including the joker holding all that silverware) might be challenged to LOOK UP from the screens and the papers and the worries of the world and SEE that in some mysterious way, Christ really is RIGHT HERE… with us in the bread and wine, making even this insane crazy-train of a world new again with light and love and life.  

It’s also one of the reasons we give each other a sign of God’s peace for so long that it makes some of us introverts itch… because sharing the peace asks us to LEAN IN and see Christ in the eyes of the people we greet. In one another’s eyes, we’re reminded again and again that we are not alone. It’s also one of the reasons we shout, “Thanks be to God, Alleluia, Alleluia!” at the end of our worship. Because when we LOOK UP and see Christ rising in our midst… when we LEAN IN and see Christ alive in the eyes of our neighbors and when we hear one another shout Alleluia! We’re both inspired and empowered, not to ESCAPE the world or try to stop the world and get off, but to jump right INTO THE WORLD… right smack dab into the deep end of the crazy, and SHOW the world what it looks like to really LIVE this life we’ve been given! We shout “Alleluia!” because God has chosen US, to jump into this pond we call our world and let the ripples of our lives lived in kindness, compassion, generosity and love radiate out from this place far beyond where we might ever be able to see or imagine.

The world doesn’t need us hiding in fear. The world doesn’t need us trying to grind it to a stop. The world doesn’t need us looking for signs in the stars or the moon or in headlines or in breaking news. What the world needs… is for each and every one of us to LOOK UP, LEAN IN AND LIVE the life we’ve been given as a gift from God. To jump into the world with an Alleluia cannonball that will soak all of creation from head to toe with the power of God’s love, transforming even this current world’s horrible-ness into a life of abundant joy for ALL of creation. Our call for this Advent is to LOOK UP, LEAN IN, AND LIVE! Amen.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Sing It!

1 Samuel 2:1-10

Hannah prayed and said, “My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in my victory. “There is no Holy One like the Lord, no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God. Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry are fat with spoil. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn. The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exalts. He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and on them he has set the world. “He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness; for not by might does one prevail. The Lord! His adversaries shall be shattered; the Most High will thunder in heaven. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king, and exalt the power of his anointed.”

Let me catch you up on the story behind “Hannah’s Song” which we read for the first lesson today.  Elkanah had two wives.  Peninnah had children.  Hannah didn't.  Elkanah loved Hannah though and gave her extra food at the annual Temple meal hoping that would get God to give her a child.  He was actually trying to help… but he’s a guy, and you know guys, so Hannah knew more was needed.  She went to the Temple to pray and promised if she had a son she’d give her son to serve God.  Well, her prayers were answered with the arrival of her son, Samuel.  When Samuel was just a little bit older, she brought him back to the Temple to be a servant of God with the priest Eli.  

As she left the Temple, THIS was the song she sang into the darkness of the world.  You see, the world Hannah lived in sang a different, loud, and obnoxiously insistent song.  A song that told women they had no worth and women without children were worth even less.  A song that demonized the poor and hungry.  A song that demanded that might makes right and those with the might, decides what’s right. The lyrics to the world’s song in Hannah’s day said:  You don’t matter.  You don’t belong.  You’re worthless, hopeless, and meaningless.  THAT was the soundtrack that played through the the lives of the people of Hannah’s day.

But Hannah sang a different song!  And she sang her song right into the face of the world’s song!  And even when the world tried to drown her out… Hannah sang her song even louder, even longer and even stronger… because she sang her song, as a duet with God!  The world’s song was no match for that!  

The soundtrack of Hannah’s day… the lyrics she heard the world sing then… they're all too familiar, even today.  The lyrics of our day still say the poor don’t matter, the hungry should get a job, refugees should go home, and lying is justified if we get what we want in the end.  You know the lyrics to the world’s song.  You can’t help but know them, they’re the most horrible sort of ear-worm.  They're shouted, broadcast, remixed and Tweeted everywhere, everyday in ALL CAPS.  So with the world singing that same old horrible song, we like Hannah, are called to sing OUR SONG into the darkness of OUR world!  So, what song will YOU sing?  What are the lyrics to YOUR song?  What is the song that you will sing louder, longer, and stronger than ANY song the world could ever hope to sing, because you sing it with God!?  

For one of our Canons, Rich Simpson, it’s “Into the Fire” from the prophet Bruce Springsteen:  “May your strength give us strength.  May your faith give us faith.  May your hope give us hope.  May your love give us love.”  Now, just between us, for Rich, it’s not just one song.  It's actually the Boss’ entire body of work!  “Badlands” and “Rocky Ground” and “My City of Ruins” and… well, you get the idea.  But hey, a playlist works!  If you’ve got a playlist… Sing the playlist into the darkness with God!  

For my wife Kelly, her go-to song is “I Shall Be Released” sung by Bette Midler: “I see my light come shining.  From the west down to the east. Any day now, any day now.  I shall be released.” But like Rich she has more of an extended playlist than just one song, but her's leans distinctly in the direction of Broadway!  “You Will Be Found” from Dear Evan Hansen.  “You Are Not Alone” from Into the Woods.  “Defying Gravity” and “For Good” from Wicked… lots of Broadway!  But for her, a Broadway playlist is the perfect thing to sing with God into the darkness!  

For Pam, one of our newer folks here, her song is “No Rain” by Blind Melon:  “I just want someone to say to me, oh.  I’ll always be there when you wake, yeah.  You know I'd like to keep my cheeks dry today.  So stay with me and I'll have it made.”  For Cynthia Wade, who suggested I make a Spotify list of all the suggestions, it’s “Born to be Loved” by Lucinda Williams: “You weren't born to be abandoned.  You weren't born to be forsaken.  You were born to be loved.  You were born to be loved.”  

Others tell me they sing, “What the World Needs Now Is Love Sweet Love” or “All You Need is Love” or “Put a Little Love in Your Heart”… a themed play list is awesome!  Still others sing “Imagine” or “Turning of the World”... “All Good People” or “A Soft Place to Land."  Other play classical tunes by Mozart, Bach or The Lark Ascending by Ralph Vaughn Williams into their darkness.  For me it’s a Bob Marley tune sung full on with a Jamaica accent, mon!  “Rise up this morning.  Smiled with the rising sun.  Three little birds.  Pitch by my doorstep.  Singing sweet songs.  Of melodies pure and true, saying, ‘this is my message to you.’  Don’t worry about a thing.  Cause every little thing is gonna be alright.”  

So what’s YOUR song?  Any genre, style, tune… a single song or a whole playlist... It all works!  And God is there to sing it all with you!  To help you sing it longer than the long song of injustice the world sings.  To sing it louder than the loudest shouted songs of hatred the world can shout and stronger than the deepest darkness the world can sing.  

What is your song?  What song do you sing to push back the darkness?  Look around you.  You know these folks.  They want to know your song.  They want to know, so when you forget the words, they can help you remember… so when the world is so dark that you lose your voice, they can sing it for you full out into the darkness until your voice returns.  That's who we are here.  We're the Body of Christ, gathered to sing a different song... to sing each other's songs, head on, full force, into the darkness of th world... until the day comes when the dark songs of the world are all drown out, and all that creation will be able to hear are the songs we sing together with God.  Songs of hope, love, peace, joy and abundant life.  Amen.  

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Give It All

Mark 12:38-44

As Jesus taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, the War to End All Wars came to an end.  One hundred years ago today, the world made peace.  I don’t think I’ll be giving away any spoilers when I tell you that peace didn’t last.  The idea, that this would be the War to End All Wars was noble, lofty, hopeful… and even still, it didn’t last.  We don’t need to go into the reasons other than to say human beings continue to be involved in the workings of our world.  

But even though it didn’t last, I’m very thankful that the people then… gave it their all.  I’m thankful that they took a step toward that noble, lofty, hopeful goal.  I'm thankful that in that moment they did all that they could do… that they gave peace their very best effort… they gave all that they had, even as imperfect as it turned out to be, they did all they could to give hope to the world.  

The Gospel lesson for this week is about just that… about giving all that we have, even as imperfect as it might be.  I know the gospel SEEMS to be about money AND it’s stewardship season AND we just did a legacy giving event AND were doing something on stewardship every Sunday from now until December 2nd, so everything SEEMS to be about money right now!  But honestly, none of it is PRIMARILY about money.  

Now, I’ll give you that the money part’s hard to look past.  You’ve got the rich, showy folks with their fancy clothes strutting around the temple courtyard, flashing their wallets and pealing off bills into the offering plate making sure everyone will see.  Then, in contrast to all of that, you’ve got the widow.  “Widows” back then had no Social Security, no pension, no nothing… and so here’s this widow in her shabby cloths, trying to be invisible and just put her two cents in the plate.  

Jesus, watching this all play out, says to his disciples, “See, that poor widow?  She just gave WAY more than the rich folks, because for those rich folks, their gift didn’t even pinch a little!  They won’t ever feel it!  They’ll live just as well after they gave as before they gave.  But that widow… she’s done!  There’s no check in the mail.  She’s given it all she had!”

Giving all she had didn’t magically multiply and fund the Temple for the next year.  Giving all she had didn’t twist God’s arm into giving her prosperity and it didn’t buy the chief priest a private jet!  It was just two cents.  BUT it was everything she had.  She gave all she had.

Jesus points to that widow and tells the disciples they should pay attention to her, because she is their (and our) model for discipleship.  But not primarily a model for how to fill out your pledge card or put money in the plate on Sunday.  Jesus points at that widow and tells us disciples, “Do THAT!  Do THAT with your WHOLE life!  That’s what Jesus was in Jerusalem to do himself, when he saw that poor widow across the street at the Temple.  He was about to give his WHOLE LIFE on the cross.  

That’s what this lesson’s really about.  It’s about giving it all.  That poor widow doesn’t hedge the bet.  She hasn’t stashed some cash under the mattress for a rainy day.  She gives it all!  She gives the money that would have kept her alive, at least for a little bit longer.  She gives her life.  She puts her WHOLE life in God’s hands.   

Today’s first lesson drives home that same point with another widow.  She was asked to give the last bit of bread she had to some stranger.  Her plan had been to bake the last, little, pitiful, loaf.  Eat it with her son, and then just wait for both of them to starve to death.  Into that situation a guy shows up and says, “Why don’t you give ME your last bit of food?”  And for whatever reason… whether it was faith, shock or resignation… she gave all she had.  

This way of living… giving it all… it makes no sense to the world.  Whether it’s giving everything we have toward aspirational goals like making a war, the War to End all Wars, or working for the end of hatred, the extinction of bigotry, the elimination of racism, the demise of violence… the world has trouble wrapping it’s mind around that sort of gift.  The idea that people might actually dare to give their all to the ideals of loving God and loving neighbor without condition… the world largely sees that as just as foolish as putting your last two cents into the offering plate, baking your last bit of bread to feed some random foreigner off the street or coming to Jerusalem when Jerusalem is out to have you killed.  

But that’s our call.  As individuals and as a church.  To give it our all!  To give away our last two cents.  To give away our last piece of food to a stranger.  To offer our lives for even a chance of peace.  AND when we inevitably fall short of giving it our all… when inevitably we don’t fully eliminate hatred, bigotry and violence in one fail swoop… when inevitably The War to End all Wars has to be renamed, World War I… we’re called to confess where we fell short, turn around and go at it one more time… trying one more time to give this life we’ve been given, all that we have.

That’s our call.  To give our all, even when in beautiful hindsight our “all” ads up to a half step forward and two steps back.  We are called to give it our all… toward God’s vision of a world without war, a world without hate, a world without hunger, pain or fear.  Our call is to give it our last little cake.  To give it our last two cents.  To give it our whole lives, trusting in God’s love and promise that no matter how far we move forward or how far we fall back, God will always be there to fill our empty jars with meal, our empty jugs with oil, our empty hearts with love and our empty souls with hope as many times as we need.  Amen

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

AND, AND, By God, AND!

John 11:32-44

When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” 

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

All Saints Day asks us to hold opposites together.  It asks us to hold heaven and earth together... to hold death and life together… all at the very same time.  In our current world, where there are days I wonder if we could even manage to hold a glass of milk and an Oreo cookie together at the same time, that seems to be a very tall order.  But that is exactly what All Saints Day asks of us today.    

The lesson from Isaiah has my favorite image of heaven.  A beautiful table set with the very best food and drink.  Now that’s heaven!  The lesson from Revelation is a lovely vision of heaven as well.  A place were mourning and crying and pain are no more!  And in the Gospel, the dead are raised, even when it seems impossible... even after Lazarus had begun to “stinketh” as it says in the King James Version... God raises him from the dead.  So in heaven we’re assured that God will do the same for us as well!  

So these lessons ARE about where we go when we “fly away, sweet Jesus”…AND! AND! By God AND!… All Saints Days ALSO insists that we hold that together with living THIS LIFE!  Right HERE!  Right NOW!  That passage from Isaiah after all says that God will make that beautiful feast on THIS mountain… not just on THAT mountain “when I die, Hallelujah by and by!”  All Saints Day tells us we better get started setting that feast table right NOW!  Because THAT’S a feast for then... AND... it is just as much a feast for us to enjoy right HERE!  Right NOW!  
That lesson from Revelation talks about heaven… about “a land where joys will never end.”  But All Saints Day ALSO insists that the Holy City… that New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband…  That’s not JUST a city “on some bright morning when this life is over!”  All Saints Day insists it is JUST AS MUCH a city for NOW!  That place where every tear is wiped away… THAT’S a city for our HERE!  THAT’S a city for our NOW!

And in John’s Gospel, right before the bit of the story we read for today, Martha basically says to Jesus, “I know he’ll rise on some day in the sweet by and by.”  BUT THEN Jesus goes ahead and raises Lazarus right THERE… Right THEN to show Mary… to show Martha… to show you… to show me… to show this world... that Eternal Life isn’t JUST something we get on “God's celestial shore” but it is JUST AS MUCH about living the Abundant life we rise up to each morning, right HERE too!  All Saints Day insists that Eternal Life is not just about a life "when we fly away to glory" but it’s equally about living the eternal, abundant life we've been given... a life we’ve been given as a glorious and perfect gift... A gift that's been set into our hands by our overwhelmingly generous, outrageously loving God, RIGHT NOW!    

Our job, as people of faith, is to live our lives looking forward to the wonders of heaven, with it’s feasts and it’s mansions in a pain and tear free paradise... AND, AND, by God!  AND!  Our job, as people of faith is to live our lives working to create the very best representation of that feast filled, death fighting, tear wiping, pain soothing paradise right here on earth!  Even while the world STINKETH around us, we’re called to roll the stones away, unbind those who are bound up in any way and set them free!  Even on the days when our world doesn’t feel so much like a party, we’re being called to set the table and invite our neighbors for a feast!  Even on the days when the hatred, bigotry, and just plain evil of this world create WAY too many tears, we’re being called to wipe each other’s tears away and do all that we can to take away the world’s pain.  All Saints Day insists that even on the days that "stinketh" we're being called to "come out!" and and show the world how God created us to live!  
Today we celebrate the truth of God’s BOTH/AND!  Today we reject the world’s insistence that everything from people to politics, from heaven to earth, from Oreos to milk, must always be EITHER/OR.  Today we celebrate BOTH the promise of the life to come AND the gift of the life we share together now!  Today we look forward to that feast of rich food filled with marrow that is to come AND we come to THIS table NOW to keep that very same feast, snitching just a bit of bread from God’s table, and taking just a sip of wine from the cup until the day we will sit with God and all the Saints at the feast which never ends! 

On this All Saints day we look to that “sweet by and by” where we sit at that feast in heaven, where we live in the holy city and where we are raised from the dead on the last day… AND…AND… BY GOD AND!  We also roll back the stones that keep people from having life RIGHT NOW.  We unwind the bands that deprive our neighbors of their full dignity as humans, RIGHT NOW.  We wipe away the tears from our neighbor’s eyes, seeing in their eyes the eyes of Christ and we work to take away the pain of the world RIGHT NOW, so that ALL of creation might experience God's loving gift of LIFE, in heaven, AND… AND… by God, AND!  On earth!  Amen.

Monday, October 29, 2018

The Sin of Antisemitism

You may have heard that the terrorist at the Tree of Life Synagogue used a verse from the eighth chapter of John’s Gospel to justify his actions, citing particularly verse 44.  In that verse, Jesus tells the people he is arguing with that their father is the devil.  I suspect that everyone who is associated with our church knows in their hearts that Jesus was NOT speaking literally and your suspicions would be correct!  He was NOT!  We know in our hearts what Bishop Curry is fond of saying out loud, “If it’s not about love, then it’s not about God!”  I also suspect though, we might all appreciate a little help understanding what Jesus WAS trying to say here since the Gospel of John is the most mystical of the Gospels it is never exactly straight forward or easy to fully understand.  It is a Gospel that MUST be read and understood through a mystic’s lens. 

I am also painfully aware that this person’s horrific misinterpretation of Scripture has a long history in being used to fan the flames of the sin of antisemitism through the centuries.  As a church connected with the Lutheran tradition, we have a particular responsibility and must be constantly vigilant not to even passively repeat the horrible mistakes of our tradition’s past.  Therefore in repentance for those past sins and in faithfulness to our true faith which is grounded in love, we must now always speak loudly, publicly and boldly when this scripture and our faith is again horribly misused to fan the flames of the sin of antisemitism.  This is a task each of us needs to understand as our both our church’s task AND our individual task.  This we MUST DO in order to live deeply into our Baptismal covenant as we “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” 

The first thing to understand about this bit of Scripture is that it is a part of the whole Gospel of John which was written primarily as a mystic theology first, and historical remembrance a very distant second.  You may have noticed it doesn’t follow neatly with the other Gospels and that’s because the author wasn’t at all trying to write a history!  He was writing a mystic theology!  Because of that, almost everything in this book has deeper meaning than what is read on the surface.  For example, there are only seven “signs” or miracles in John’s Gospel. That’s not because John was napping while Jesus did the others, but because the number seven is a mystically “perfect” number, so THAT is the number Jesus would have done!  So when I say that everything has a deeper meaning, I mean EVERYTHING.  

The second thing that is vitally important to remember, is that when Jesus refers to “The Jews” in this Gospel, he doesn’t mean the entire Jewish people.  Remember, Jesus was Jewish.  His mother was Jewish.  His disciples were Jewish.  They weren’t Christians.  They were the Jewish mother and followers of a Jewish rabbi, named Jesus!  When Jesus says “The Jews” in John’s Gospel or talks about the “Scribes and Pharisees” in the other Gospels, he was specifically referring to the Jewish leadership with whom he was arguing.  These were Jewish leaders who had joined with the occupying Roman government as a means to gain for themselves wealth, power and influence at the expense of the poor, hungry and struggling regular Jewish people.  When Jesus calls these leaders out, he is calling them out in the long tradition of the prophets like Jeremiah, Amos, Hosea and Micah who also called out Jewish leaders who took advantage of other poor and powerless Jewish people over the centuries. 
Throughout history and into today, people of every faith (just watch the news!) have been tempted away from the way of love by the seductive voice of power, wealth and influence.  Which leads us to the main point of this reflection.  When Jesus uses the metaphor that this group of Jewish leaders’ father is the devil, he is telling them that they, like Adam and Eve in the very beginning, have been tempted away from the way of love, which is God’s Way.  He does not mean they are literally the devil’s children.  He means they, like all of us from time to time, have metaphorically been tempted to follow a seductive, tempting voice onto a path other than God’s.  Jesus’ argument with the Jewish leadership is a moral argument.  Jesus was telling them they are walking a path other than the path of their authentic faith, a faith that cares for the widow and the orphan, that welcomes and cares for the stranger and the alien, a faith that does justice, loves kindness and walks humbly with God.  He is telling them they are walking the wrong path with the wrong crowd for all the wrong reasons. 

When Jesus is asked in Matthew’s Gospel, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”  He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”  

Those neighbors are in this moment, specifically our Jewish neighbors!  In this particular time we need to be very specific, vocal and direct about who those neighbors are.  They are Jewish!  Therefore, I recommit myself and our congregation to stand with our Jewish friends and neighbors in their every need.  We are ready to be called and directed by them as their allies in any way in which they might ask.  I recommit us all to prayer with them and for them, and to continue to actively work to further build our relationships, both between individuals and between our faith communities, and with one voice in our shared community to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with OUR God.  

We are blessed at Christ Trinity to have Jewish “members” of our church!  Lovely neighbors and dear, dear friends who join us for events, sing with us at beer and hymns, help us at our fair and count us as their friends as we count them as ours.  Let us reach out to those friends in particular this week.  Check in on them.  Send them a card.  Let them know you and our church are holding them in our prayers and that the people of the Synagogue in Pittsburgh are in our prayers.  When you remember those who were killed, say “may their memory be for a blessing.”  It will be appreciated.  Remind them when you see them that we do now and always will, stand with them no matter what goes on in the world.  

We need to do more than simply know in our hearts that we follow the Way of love and hold our neighbors in our prayers.  We need to make that widely, vocally and profoundly known in our community and in our world and now is the time for us to do that! 

Monday, October 22, 2018

A Mighty Beer Drinking Song

Psalm 46

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.

God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.  The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth.  He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.

“Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.”

The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Martin Luther took the 46th Psalm and set those words to a beer drinking song (that’s actually true!) because the people he cared for were living in stormy times.  Today, people tell me they’re hitting the wall, approaching despair, becoming exhausted in our stormy times.  Tossed and battered day after day… one crisis follows another.  Storms, both natural and human made, are deadly and unrelenting.  The earth changes, mountains shake, the chaos of the sea rages on shore at near category five levels.  Lots of Psalm 46 kind of days these days!  

So much fear and anger out there.  Some people actually cheer as others are hurt or killed.  Horrible actions are dismissed or covered up… our upcoming elections are filled with hate, fear, and lies.  Voter suppression is rampant… the dignity of human beings is ignored.  Then there’s the church!  Those of us who used to be younger remember the church used to feel like it was on solid ground and now it feels more like sinking sand.  But into ALL that, God makes US that same Psalm 46 promise that God made when it was written and when Luther set those words to a beer drinking song!  The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge! 

Now, I think it might be good to talk about this “God of Jacob” for just a little bit because the God of Jacob ain’t just any old god.  The God of Jacob is tricksy.  The God of Jacob is sneaky.  The God of Jacob isn’t above a low blow.  The God of Jacob helped Jacob’s mom, Rebekah, cheat his older brother Esau out of his birthright.  The God of Jacob helped them trick Isaac, Jacob and Esau’s, blind and dying father, into blessing Jacob instead of Esau which just wasn’t at all very nice!  The God of Jacob is THAT sort of God!

The God of Jacob sent Jacob BACK to meet up with the brother he had cheated, just a few chapters later.  That, as you might imagine, scared the ever lovin’ poo out of Jacob!  The God of Jacob is THAT sort of God! The God of Jacob is the One who wrestled with Jacob in the middle of a river all night long to keep Jacob moving toward that scary encounter.  The God of Jacob is the One who won that fight by “Putting Jacob’s hip out of joint” and by “hip” he meant a much more sensitive area that’s around the same HIGHT as a hip, but around the corner from the hip, if you know what I mean!  

THAT’s the God of Jacob.  Sneaky!  Bold!  Brash!  A break the rules, sneaky and even low-blow dealing God, willing to do whatever it takes to get the world moving where the world needs to move!  The God of Jacob is willing to get your attention in the most attention-getting ways!  THAT’s the Lord of hosts that’s with us; THAT’s the God of Jacob who is our refuge.  

You would think THAT sort of God would be able to keep our attention, but the storms of life THESE days are SO distracting, aren’t they?  They make it SO HARD to remember EVEN this attention demanding, God of Jacob!  The mountains of breaking news, shaking our pockets and purses with alerts are so hard to ignore, like the sound of waters raging around us, it all demands our constant attention no matter what we try.  

It reminds me of that story of Peter wanting to walk on the water.  To me our world feels like that!  It feels like I’d LIKE to step out of the boat and walk on the chaos of the world toward Jesus.  I’d LIKE for the chaos of the sea to be kept firmly under my feet, but like Peter, that works only as long I keep my eye on Jesus, but as soon as I get distracted by all that raging chaos around me… just like Peter… I'm SUNK... washed up… ALL wet. 

I don’t think that makes you or me or Peter unfaithful.  I think what that makes us… is human!  It’s human to get distracted by the chaos of the world and like Peter, end up all wet.  Peter, it turns out wasn’t Divine like Jesus.  Walking on water was not his Spiritual gift… and it’s not ours either… unless you’ve been holding out on me!  This is why we NEED each other... NEED to gather together every week with one another, to remind each other in our very understandably distracted human lives, that even while the mountains shake and the seas rage and we find ourselves getting more than just a little bit soggy… THAT’S NOT the end of the story!  Even after Peter got distracted… even after he was sunk… he got pulled out.  The Lord of hosts was with him!  The God of Jacob grabbed him by the collar and pulled him into the refuge of the boat! 

This Psalm is a great reminder… Luther’s beer drinking song using the words of this Psalm is a good reminder…  celebrating Reformation Sunday today is a good reminder… Both of the ways the God of Jacob has worked in the past AND the ways the God of Jacob IS STILL working in our world today!  It’s a good reminder that the God of Jacob might very well be working in ways we don’t expect and that the God of Jacob works, not by eliminating chaos but by diving into it and wrestling.  The God of Jacob doesn’t dry up oceans to save folks like Peter… the God go Jacob reaches right INTO our chaos, and pulls us all right THROUGH it!  

The chaotic, loud and obnoxious voices of hate, fear, racism, exclusion, sexism, gender bias, anger, lying and violence will continue to yell out from under the rocks and up from deep-dark pits where they live.  It will all continue to sound genuinely horrible… feel completely unbearable and drive us understandably toward despair.  But through it all, through all that noise, through all the chaos, through all the unrelenting storms… the Lord of Hosts IS with us! A mighty fortress IS our God!  The God of Jacob IS our stronghold and reaches through EVERY chaos… through EVERY storm… through EVERY form of hate… through EVERY assault on human dignity… through EVERY injustice… the God of Jacob reaches through it ALL… down through the waters of the world's worst chaotic storms, down through our Baptisms, grabs us by our collars, and pulls us out of death and into a NEW and abundant life each and every day.  The Lord of hosts IS with us.  The God of Jacob IS our refuge.  Amen.