Thursday, December 1, 2022

The Unreasonableness of Hope

Matthew 3:1-12

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the
wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”


Having hope for our world seems all too often to be an unreasonable expectation.  And yet, having Hope for our world, particularly when hope seems entirely unreasonable, is what Advent is all about.

  

Hope often seems unreasonable because… well… have you seen this world?  It feels like the brood of vipers is bigger than ever!  It all too often feels like that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indiana Jones and Marion are at the bottom of the Egyptian tomb surrounded by snakes with just a torch… the torch is going out… and Nazis are sealing them inside.  There is so much slithering and venom spewing around us these days, and frankly, that would be enough… but we've even got Nazis again!


Hope seemed unreasonable in John the Baptist's time too.  He stood in the desert and called out the snakes that had locked the world in hopelessness.  Some came out and committed to doing their best to NOT live that snake-like way any longer.  Others denied there even was a snake problem at all!  John the Baptist preferred it when people saw how they contributed to the hopelessness of the world and committed to live differently.  But John the Baptist also KNEW that no matter how they would try... a permanent fix for hopelessness was beyond them. 


He told them, "Look, we all are like little orchards, not individual trees.  No one is made up entirely of trees that make bitter, mushy fruit and no one has trees that only make sweet and crispy fruit either.  My advise to you",  John the Baptist told them "is to feed the trees that make the good fruit and not the ones that make the garbage fruit.  But remember, a permanent fix will only arrive with the ONE who is coming with an axe. It's only that ONE who can change the mix of trees in your orchard for good.  We are now both Saints and Sinners, Hopeful and Hopeless.  Both impossibly entangled together like chaff around the grain."  


John the Baptist KNEW that for us to be fully transformed we needed “One more powerful” than even the bug and honey fueled John the Baptist.  For us to be able to hold onto Hope even in the pitch black darkness of the world surrounded by snakes and Nazis, we needed the One who’s sandals John was not worthy to even carry.  For Hope to live and Hopelessness to die we needed the One who would Baptize, not with water, but with the Holy Spirit and with fire!  


"The Good News" John told them is "THAT one is coming!  THAT one will cut the dead wood out of our orchards.  That one, with his own death, will pull hopelessness down and lock it away in hell, and rise to new life with an unconquerable hopefulness!  It is an absolutely unreasonable expectation to have Hope for this world, when we look around us and see no further than the darkness and the vipers.  Hope, however, becomes more than just possible... it becomes a forgone conclusion when we look to the One who has so many times before before, is now, and will continue to do the unreasonable, the unlikely, the impossible, the improbable, and the unbelievable work of changing the world from what it is, into what God envisions it to be.  


Advent reminds us to look beyond the end of our noses.  To look beyond the endless darkness.  To look beyond what all the snakes of the world say is inevitable and see the God who has always been there… the God of love, the God of life, the God who makes the unreasonable and impossible happen in truly the most unbelievable and unlikely ways.  Advent calls us to look beyond hopelessness and see the hope for all of creation in what God has done, is doing, and promises yet to do.  Amen. 

Friday, November 25, 2022

AAAAAAWWWWWW YYYYEEEEEAAAAA

 Matthew 24: 36-44

“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.



When you hear this Gospel, what springs to mind?  Confusion maybe?  Fear?  Do you imagine Jesus with a giant old hoover, vacuuming up the faithful while the rest of us “left behind”?  A very large group of very loud people have laid all of that onto this Gospel for a very long time.  It’s been done so completely and so relentlessly that there are countless stories of kids coming home from school to an empty house and immediately assuming their family had been raptured and they had been left behind. 


It should be “needless to say” but I’ve found over the years it is “absolutely necessary to say.”  The Rapture is not Biblical.  Jesus did NOT say this to frighten ANY of God’s children into being “good.”  The idea that God is a manipulative, emotionally abusive, overseer waiting for us to mess up and leave us behind turns God into an abusive, rather than loving parent.  It’s an evil idea used by those in power to keep the powerless from seeing this passage as it was intended… as a message of hope in the midst of hopelessness.  A hope, grounded in God’s steadfast love for ALL of creation.  ALL of it.  ALL.

  

The people who first heard this were living in the shadow of the destruction of the Temple.  They had been completely beaten for a long time by Rome, but when Matthew’s Gospel was written, they had been beaten to a new level that made the former beating feel like a day at the spa.  So this was then, and still is today, meant to be a message of hope for the hopelessly oppressed… a message that God will NOT accept that status quo.


But how does this same message sound to those on the other side?  How does this sound to the powerful or to the folks who at least do pretty well, just as things are?  How does this sound to the people of privilege?  How does it sound… well… to us?  We very often have more in common with the owner of the house in this passage who had gathered around themselves power, privilege and possessions, than we do with those who work in fields or at grinding meal who can’t afford an apartment let alone own a house.  What are we… the faithful… but also the privileged to do with this lesson?


The faithful, whether born into privilege or poverty are called to do exactly the same thing… embrace God’s vision of radical and revolutionary hope for the world and then get on the bus and drive the world toward the finish line where there is no longer Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female, brown nor white, gay nor straight, us nor them, but all are as God created us to be… ONE.  


The first step on that path is to grieve the loss of what was.  Walter Bruggemann recently wrote in an article that “There is so much to lament when we think of the “good old days” that were “good” only for some among us.”  It is hard to let go of the past.  It’s hard for those of privilege and it is also hard for those who often find the known oppression to be less frightening that the unknown of what might be next.  Either way though, Bruggemann reminds us that as humans we need to grieve what has been… the good, bad, and indifferent.  The alternative to grieving is to live in denial, doing anything and everything imaginable and unimaginable to return to and hold onto the past.  Seven mass shooting this past week is just a tiny peek at what happens when people demand to live in denial that the past is gone rather than recognize that the world has already changed.   


Bruggemann tells us that lament is the absolutely required first step humans must take if they are ever to be able to move beyond grief and walk into God’s Hope for something new and wonderful for ALL people.  He goes on to tell us that when we keep walking in that direction, that it is in the GOING that we will discover we really do have the power to be a part of bringing that vision to reality.  That’s what Advent is about.  Not so much a countdown to Christmas, but a reminder that God is on the move... GOING and is inviting us to Go too.  We’ll be reminded of it over and over again in Advent.  An angel GOES to see Mary.  Another GOES to see Joseph.  A pregnant Mary GOES to see her cousin.  The whole family GOES to Bethlehem.  Shepherds GO into town, Sages GO from East to West, the family GOES as refugees to Egypt.  Each time in Advent someone GOES, it is more than just a story from long ago.  It is an invitation from God for you and I to go along.  To give up and lament the “good old days” that were “good” only for some among us, to step deeply into God’s vision of revolutionary hope for the future and then take one more step and GO into a world where all are truly ONE.  Amen.

Friday, November 18, 2022

It Was Alive When You Bought It

Jeremiah 23:1-6

Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the
sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord. The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

Luke 23:33-43

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”


The usual place we expect to see today’s Gospel lesson is in Holy Week.  There, it takes its place in the center of Christianity… the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus.  When we hear it in Holy Week it is fairly impossible to see it any other way.  BUT this isn’t Holy Week, and that gives us a chance to see it in a different way... as a parable.  To see it as a parable rather than as we're used to seeing it in Holy Week is a fairly big leap, so I think it would help to circle back to the first lesson and sort of get a running start as we jump into that new perspective.  


In that first lesson God, through the voice of the prophet Jeremiah, makes it VERY clear that the leaders of God’s people were not just inept, but doing evil.  They had scattered their people.  Driven them away.  They were indifferent and uncaring.  They had torn apart and divided the community.  Unfortunately that sort of leadership is not just a one-off here in Jeremiah.  It's a story repeated over and over again in history, in fiction, and even in yesterday’s news.  Scattering the flock, dividing the people… dis-membering the community… It all is sadly nothing new under the sun.     


While Kelly was gone I binged The Hobbit trilogy again.  Thorin, the dwarf king, when he fell victim to Dragon Fever did this same thing.  He scattered his company, drove off his allies and isolated himself amongst his vast piles of gold.  We are all, right now, watching Elon Musk… another sad victim of Dragon Fever do the same.  He bought Twitter, angry because they were not managing speech on that platform the way HE thought it should be done.  Then, finally seated atop his enormous pile of social media gold, is even now proceeding to alienate the employees (the only people who actually know how it works), drive off users and advertisers and isolate himself in his crumbling kingdom.  


The shepherds of the people in Jeremiah, the Dwarf King, and the billionaire Elon Musk… three good examples of leaders who have walked down a path lined with “evil doings” of tearing apart the communities, nations, and the people around them.  They have driven wedges, increased divisions, EVEN between themselves and the very people who could help them.  They all, in fear and desperation, restored to sowing seeds of conspiracy and hatred.  In their fear filled evil doings they have fallen to divide and conquer and dismembering person from person, nation from nation, race from race, and walking that path inevitably ends with them dismembering themselves from humanity as well.  


Dismemberment is not the way, God cries out!  I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. I myself will gather my flock, I will bring them back to their fold.  I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.  God’s way, and I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that because it's "God's Way" it's the best way, is NEVER about scattering, alienating, dividing, and sewing fear!  God attends… God gathers! God brings back… God raises up!  God makes it so they shall NOT fear, NOT be dismayed, and NOT torn apart and THAT is the running start we needed to jump into this familiar Gospel from a new direction.  Because even on the cross, in the midst of agonizing pain, growing closer to death every moment… himself a victim of kings who traffic in scattering, dividing, and sewing seeds of fear and hatred... what is it that Jesus does?  He RE-MEMBERS.  Whatever brokenness that had dis-membered that man from his community… Jesus RE-MEMBERED him.  The death that was about to dis-member that man from his life, would be RE-MEMBERED that day in Paradise.  


Taken out of the context of Holy Week, we have a chance to see this scene as one of Jesus’ parables.  We can see Jesus once again, not telling us as much as SHOWING us the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  There is the way of shepherd kings, dwarf kings, and billionaire kings.  And then there is the way of God and Christ the King.  There is the way of division, scattering, alienating, fear mongering and dis-membering.  Then there is the way of gathering, bringing together, raising up and re-membering.  


As a parable, this passage asks us a question.  Not just a question for kings… but a question for all of us.  Will we today, in all that we do, partner ourselves with the powers of greed and division?  Will we isolate ourselves and spend our day scattering and dismembering?  OR… Or… will we do as Jesus did… even as Jesus did on his very worst day… and genuinely SEE the people we meet, GATHER our community together with kindness and hospitality, help to RETURN those around us to a wholeness they have lost… COMFORT them?  Will we RE-MEMBER them?  This parable shows us two paths.  One of DIS-MEMBERING and the other of RE-MEMBERING.  May each of us help one another… to be about the holy work of REMEMBERING.  Amen. 

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Doomsday Checklist

Luke 21:5-19

When some were speaking about the temple, how it
was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them. “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.




Well, that seemed a bit grim.  But that was then, right?  Maybe that stuff is just olden days stuff?  I think we should probably test it just to make sure.  Okay, let’s see here… Got the clip board… got the Doomsday check list securely fastened… got a pen… Alright… so here we go.  Are there any Wars around?  Well, there’s Ukraine, so… check.  Insurrections?  Ew, yeah, January 6, big ol’ ugly check.  Nation rising against nation, check.  Kingdom against Kingdom, yup, got that.  Earthquakes, famines and plagues… check, check, and a big ol’ COVID positive check!  Dreadful portents… that’s called “the news” since 2016, check.  Great signs in the heavens… what do you think… do the dueling billionaire rockets count for that… Yeah, I think so… especially THAT one!  So check!  Great!  We’ve checked off all the signs, everything looks to be in good order and so according to my checklist here it looks like we’re all lined up for the end of the world!  Great!

 

Or not.  I mean, it was a funny bit, but not at all responsible Biblical interpretation.  Look at what Jesus and the Disciples are actually talking about.  They weren’t talking about the end of the world.  They were talking about the destruction of the Temple.  Something that would no doubt be catastrophically bad, on the real good, to catastrophically bad, scale.  BUT it’s not the end of the world.  And they weren’t at all talking about OUR times today.  They were talking about their times back then, when in the year 70, the Temple was indeed destroyed by the Romans.   


So if predicting the end of the world is not what this lesson is all about (something that Jesus says even HE can't do as God’s SON) then what is this all about?  For that, I believe we must turn to one of the great theological minds of all times… and I'm sure with that introduction you've already guessed I'm talking about Dory, from Finding Nemo.  


Dory who, by the way is not a Dory, but a Blue Tang… but I digress.  What Jesus is trying to tell his disciples in this story, is the same philosophy that Dory expresses in her seminal and memorable work… “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.”   


Now Jesus wasn’t inviting his disciples to swim toward P. Sherman’s house at 42 Wallaby Way, Sidney.  Jesus was telling the disciples to just keep swimming toward God’s vision for all of creation.  That vision gets laid out in a bunch of places in Scripture but, conveniently for today, it’s right there in the first lesson.  Life will be a delight.  No weeping.  People living long, full lives.  Everyone will have a roof over their heads and an abundance of food on the table.  There will be an unbelievable peace covering the lands… we’re talkin'... lamb and wolf eating together... kind of crazy peace!  Jesus was inviting his disciples to “just keep swimming, just keep swimming” toward THAT vision no matter what went on around them.  He told them that when the hard times came (and they inevitably do, over and over and over again) we disciples are to shout this vision into the darkness and just keep swimming.  


THAT, my friends, is what Christ Trinity Church is here to do!  We are here to shout that vision into our town’s, our country’s, and our world’s darkness du jour!  We are here to be those unusual people who do kindness for no other reason that the world needs a bunch of it!  We are here, based at 180 Main St. in the heart of the Sheffield Metroplex to paint pictures of God’s overwhelming abundance when the world cries constantly of its catastrophic scarcity.  We are here to model living overtly generous lives, giving beyond what fear tells us is a safe and comfortable amount.  We are here at Christ Trinity in every season and in every level of darkness and light to make a joyful noise, to break forth into joyous song and sing praises!  Christ Trinity is here, on the frontier of the rest of the world to be an outpost of Hope, inspiring those around us, regardless of every obstacle put in their way, to "Just keep swimming, Just keep swimming" toward God’s vision for all of creation until God’s sunrise fully shines and we and all of creation walk fully into God’s light without a shadow to be found... Walk into the day where all the wars, and plagues, insurrections, and dreadful portents and all of the other slithery-serpent-stuff we live with now is completely and totally and forever… left in the dust.


THAT is what this church is about.  THAT is the calling to which we are called.  THAT is the mission that together we support with our singing and our caring and our laughing and our generous giving.  THAT is WHO and WHOSE we are!  Amen.  

Friday, November 4, 2022

Blessed are the Crack Pots

Luke 6:20-31

Then Jesus looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed
are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. “Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.


“But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.



For this All Saint’s Sunday, we have Luke’s version of the “Blessed Ares”… the Beatitudes.  Luke is usually nicer and gentler while Matthew is normally the “weeping and gnashing of teeth” guy.  But with the Beatitudes they seem to have done a role reversal.  Luke has, blessed are you who are poor!  Not, blessed are you who are poor in SPIRIT, like in Matthew’s Gospel.  Just straight up POOR!  Blessed are you who are hungry.  Not, blessed are you who hunger and thirst for righteousness like in Matthew’s Gospel.  No, this isn’t some kind of spiritual poverty, this is not-enough-money-to-pay-the-rent, poverty!  This isn’t a spiritual hunger Jesus is calling blessed.  This is a growling-stomach-that-doesn’t-know-where-to-find-a-meal kind of hunger that Jesus is calling blessed.  


I think I probably like Matthew’s version of these beatitudes better because I can be blessed… because I’m poor “in spirit” but don’t have to be poor in wallet.  In Matthew I can be blessed as someone who hungers and thirsts "for righteousness" and not have to actually do without a meal.  Luke’s version doesn’t allow us to play that way.  Luke’s version INSISTS that it isn’t spiritual poverty or spiritual hunger.  This is “nothing in the bank and two weeks ’til payday” poverty and hunger!  This is a “without help from beyond me, myself, and I… me, myself, and I will be homeless and hungry” situation.  Luke’s version demands that we listen to Jesus and really, really hear that it is the broken, the hungry, the addicted, the poor, the weeping, the losers who have, through the terrible circumstances of live… who are BLESSED… not to be poor or hungry, (that's no blessing) but BLESSED in their hard learned understand that there is NOTHING any of us can accomplish on our own, apart from God.  


It is those life-cracking experiences that allow us to see  what Luther wrote in his explanation of the Third Article of the Apostle’s Creed, that “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”  The blessing is in the letting go of the notion we have to do it all ourselves.  The blessing is in the understanding that it’s ONLY through a gift from God that they have life, find a bed, have a meal to eat, and all the rest.


Being poor, being hungry, being broken, being an addict, being a loser and all the rest, are all held up by our world as the most horrible things you could ever be.  None of that is any fun, for sure!  But Jesus knew that being broken, even as genuinely painful and terrible as it is… turns out to ALSO form the cracks through which we are able to see God the most clearly at work in our lives.  


Now, neither Father, Son, nor Holy Spirit WISHES poverty, hunger, grief, or brokenness on any of us.  It’s just that Jesus knew that WHEN those things came into our lives… and because we're human, they always come in one way or another… we would be blessed with an opportunity to see God’s love at work in our lives in ways that the rich, the full, and the winners never would.  Woe, to them.  


In Japan, there is an art form called Kintsugi.  In this art form, ceramic bowls that have become broken are repaired in a unique way.  The artist doesn’t attempt to hide the cracks, but instead draws the eye to them by repairing them with gold.  The repaired bowls are then even more valuable than when they were unbroken.  Both the expense of the gold, but also the new beauty of the bowl, contribute to the bowl’s greater value.  


Jesus says, “Blessed are the cracked bowls.”  “Blessed are those who are broken.”  “Blessed are the losers.”  “Blessed are all the saints.”  Because it is THROUGH the cracks and brokenness of the saints around us AS WELL AS our own cracks and brokenness, that we see the shining gold of God's precious love and compassion filling our broken places and making us whole… Giving us even greater value than before… preparing each and every one of us, to then respond to God’s incredibly generous gift by being present for one another, being compassionate with one another, sharing our gifts and our wealth with one another.  It is through those ever growing acts of generosity, given in thanks for what God has first given us, that we together as the church move step by step… one day at a time… to do nothing less than change the world.  Amen. 

Friday, October 28, 2022

Christian Nationalism is NOT Christian

John 8:31-36

Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?” Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.




Today is Reformation Sunday.  It is a day to celebrate the church changing direction over 500 years ago, but, at least in THEORY, it is also supposed to be a reminder that as a church of the Reformation, we are called to constant and continual Reformation… constant and continual change.  There are two deeply theological questions that can help us determine how well we do that.  The first:  How many Episcopalians does it take to change a light bulb?  One to call the electrician, one to mix the cocktails, and one to sit and reminisce about how much better the old light bulb was.  The Second:  How many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb?  CHANGE?!?!??


The Church does not change quickly.  For some things, that’s a very good thing.  Today's Gospel with Jesus telling his disciples that as they continue living the Jesus Way, with a Jesus mindset, caring for the least, lost and last... THAT makes them his disciples; In that way they will see and experience the truth that the Jesus Way is the way to living abundantly, and that truth will make them free.  THAT focus and connection with the Jesus Way of living should not change.  And Paul's understanding that no one is better or more worthy or more holy than any one else anywhere for any reason because “ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”… that understanding should not change.  Recognizing and shouting from the rooftops that EVERYONE is made right with God by faith, made right, simply because God says so!  That too should never change.  


What SHOULD always be open to Reformation however is what smart people call adiaphora… the trappings, the decorations, the bling.  It is the cultural traditions, the particular wording, the musical, architectural, liturgical and ministry styles… the things that often make us feel safe and in control… like it used to be.  Those things SHOULD always be open to reformation.  That doesn’t mean they need change for change’s sake.  It simply asks us to notice if the trappings, the bling, and the styles we are using, are continuing to point us and others toward the Jesus Way, or perhaps have begun to point in the other direction.  


This past week Presiding Bishop Michael Curry was a part of a seminar at Georgetown called, “How White Christian Nationalism Threatens Our Democracy.”  White Christian Nationalism is a horrible consequence of confusing what should be open to reformation and what should not.  Bishop Curry said, “(Christian Nationalism) is not conservative Christianity. Obviously, it’s not liberal Christianity either. What we’re actually describing is an ideology that’s not really a religion, but it looks like a religion and invokes language and symbols that have religious traffic. … (But when you) lay it alongside (the Way of) Jesus of Nazareth, we’re not even talking about the same thing.”


White Christian Nationalism has taken a part of the church that has cried out for Reformation for centuries… white supremacy, anti-semitism, bigotry, and a lust for political power and has set THOSE THINGS as their unchangeable core, throwing out what should be unchanging… The Way of Jesus.  To try and turn that around Bishop Curry told the conference and tells each of us, “silence is complicity and silence creates a context in which something like that can grow.  One of the most powerful tools Christians have is the Bible itself.  Lift up the text of the New Testament, specifically the four Gospels … and let Jesus talk. Anything that claims to be Christian, if it doesn’t match up, then we say, ‘Well, that’s not Christianity.”


Our calling on this Reformation Sunday is much much deeper than simply wearing red and singing A Mighty Fortress.  Our calling is to publicly and loudly reject the things that people put forward as Christian, but fly in the face of the Ways of Jesus.  Our calling is to tell the world that the ways of love, compassion, forgiveness, grace and generosity starting with the least, the lost, and the last… THOSE ARE the Ways of Jesus and that racism, anti-semitism, violence, and exclusion are NOT!  Our calling this Reformation Sunday is to no longer just look away from Christian Nationalism and hope it goes away, but to proclaim out loud that Christian Nationalism is not Christian at all!  Our calling on this Reformation Sunday is to stand up, live and proclaim the Ways of Jesus and to tell the world, that it is HERE, on the Ways of Jesus that we stand, and we can do no other!  Amen.

Friday, October 21, 2022

Into Which Vision Will We Walk?

 Luke 18:9-14

Jesus also told this parable to some who trusted in
themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”



I tell you, this man when down to his home justified, rather than the other.  RATHER THAN the other.  RATHER THAN. It’s more than just a couple of words.  It’s a mind set, a philosophy… a theology… a vision for the way the world should work.  RATHER THAN.  It’s a loud theology… a proud theology… the present day’s crowd theology.  Rich rather than poor.  Men rather than women.  Americans rather than foreigners.  Straight rather than gay.  Guns rather than kids.  Rolling coal rather than a healthy planet.  Us rather than them.  RATHER THAN is a vision of a world plagued with scarcity.  Not enough food, safety, wealth, health care, housing, freedom… not enough of everything.


But, RATHER THAN… Really?  Rather than?  But there it is!  Right there in the text!  But it feels… it feels like a popcorn kernel stuck in your mind… like a splinter in your heart.  It feels so completely wrong!  The opposite of Jesus healing ten lepers without regard to their thankfulness or national origin.  It goes completely against the grain of a judge that has completely given up on judging.  But it’s in the text!  RATHER THAN!  IT'S… RIGHT… THERE! … Or is it?  


“Rather than” is what the translators chose to use here for the Greek word, “Para”… you know “para”… parallel, paralegal, paramedic, even parable.  It’s not a “wrong” translation.  A case can be made, for example, for a parasol to be a devise that gives you shade, “rather than” sun, but an equally strong case can be made for a parasol as a devise that puts you “beside” the effects of the sun.  With parasol, the difference doesn’t really matter… particularly since we all just use umbrellas!  BUT IN THIS PARABLE, the choice of how we translate “Para” makes ALL the difference.  Hear that verse again… and maybe also, hear it for the very first time… 


I tell you, this man when down to his home justified, beside the other.  He went down to his home justified, BESIDE the other.  BESIDE.  It’s more than just a word.  It’s a mind set, a philosophy… a theology… a vision for the way the world should work.  BESIDE.  It is a not a loud theology… not a proud theology… not at all the present day crowd's theology.  Rich beside poor.  Men beside women.  Americans beside foreigners.  Straight beside gay.  Us beside them.  BESIDE is the vision of a world of plenty.  More than enough food, safety, wealth, health care, jobs, and freedom… to share with everyone.  A BESIDE vision of the world revels in generosity, builds up the other, walks together with our neighbors.


There is a choice to be made in how this word is translated and infinitely more important than that, there is a choice to be made as to the vision of the world we walk into each day.  I know you.  You know me.  We are BESIDE people.  This church has a BESIDE vision for our world and that BESIDE vision allows us to see things and imagine possibilities that RATHER THAN people will sadly find impossible to see.   People of the BESIDE vision of the world can imagine a tax collector and a pharisee... two of the most opposite leaning folks… being given a way to walk down that aisle, out to get coffee together, arms around one another’s shoulders.  Somehow, by the gift of God’s grace we are able to see a vision of even those two transformed from RATHER THAN people into BESIDE people.  It’s a beautiful vision.  Incredibly beautiful.


You and I… we continue to be called to walk a path together illuminated by that BESIDE vision for our world.  In this week to come, look deeply into that BESIDE vision for our world.  Look as far down that path as you possibly can and also look at the piece of the path which lies right at the tip of your shoe.  Really notice what you see!  I'm not just saying this!  This is homework!  And your assignment is to come back and tell one another what you saw down that BESIDE path at next week’s coffee hour!  And if sometime this week you look down that path and find yourself shaking your head and rubbing your eyes in disbelief of what you see… if you find what you are looking at to be too hopeful, too delusional, too impossible to be real…  remember… it was inside that very same vision of BESIDE that a tax collector and a Pharisee were given a way by God as a gift, to leave the Temple together arm in arm beside one another, and if THAT can happen inside that vision, absolutely nothing you see down that path is truly impossible.  Amen.