Turning Points

Trinity Sunday Sermontrinity-painting.jpg

Isaiah 6:1-8 Focal Point

Today we hear the call story of Isaiah- and of Nicodemus. In fact, the call story of every person who hears the word of Christ. But not every one answers, “here I am Lord.”

Woe the Unclean lips

We have all had some variety of the dream- showing up to school work or the pulpit in pajamas or our “glory.” The dream that starts with us needing to do something like give a report or lead in some way and becoming suddenly aware of our lack of preparation- or at least proper clothing. The very self feels unprepared and really wasn’t about the report or task ahead, but about our need to feel like we are ready to face it. Imagine then being Isaiah, standing in God’s throne room. Cherubs, winged lions are flying about along with Seraphs- 6 winged flying snakes and they are hollering back and forth to each other about God’s Holiness as though it wasn’t already fully apparent. The room is full of the smoke of incense and the ground shakes with the awe of God whose robes are so full that the hem fills the room of the space. And then here is Isaiah. He is most certainly not holy, most certainly not good, and most certainly aware of it. He is far out of his depth and in good Wizard of Oz style, he speaks out loud that he is not in Kansas anymore. Talk about a preaching/teaching/leading naked moment!

Nicodemus is in much the same place. He is a political guy and the political waters have gotten very deep. The people are not happy- there is serious class division and the recent leadership is divisive for the people. If you will, they are all blowing up their facebook and twitter about how much they love or hate them. Nicodemus knows these are dangerous tides- get on the wrong side and eventually you will be the loser in the eyes of history. He is so afraid he goes out in the dark of night to seek answers from Jesus. If he is seen, well,… naked moment. It will be all over the tabloids in the morning.

Spirit of Slavery

Our passage from Romans (8:12-17) speaks to the fear that both Nicodemus and Isaiah faced. Both were in troubled waters and they were out of their depth. Neither felt prepared to handle what was in front of them.   They were immersed in the spirit of slavery- a place where one has not tasted freedom and does not know what it entails so rather than reach for it, they remain in place, chained to the mastery of the world. This spirit of slavery is far reaching. It lies to us, convincing us that we do not have the ability to be free or to change our circumstance-that even if freed, we will not only not succeed, but may miserably fail without our captor. It keeps us from going back to get an education because we are too old, from applying to a competition because we are not as skilled as others, from asking out the person we have crush on because we don’t have enough to offer, or sharing the promise of Christ because we haven’t read enough of the Bible or aren’t gifted in “that way.” Isaiah has filthy lips- in other words, he is just a guy like everyone else- not clean enough to see God, let alone serve. And Nicodemus? He has a whole career ahead of him- how could he possibly walk away and become reliant on a world that is God centered rather than politics and world centered? They both stand naked and now aware of the chains of the spirit of slavery.

Turning Points

So, here they stand, Nicodemus in front of Jesus and Isaiah in front of God. It’s interesting to note that Isaiah’s call doesn’t come in the first chapter of Isaiah- but in the 6th. In fact, this is believed to be literary device, because it is placed firmly on the cusp of King Uzziah’s death and King Ahaz’ ascension. A turning point for the people of Judah and Jerusalem. Just so, Nicodemus stands at the other side of the cusp as well. Pontius Pilate is now in charge and he, Caiphas, and Herod will shift the way things are done- and not necessarily with the greatest effect or love of the people. Each has a choice – they stand at a turning point- a chance to start anew- to be free of the spirit of slavery. So too, do we.

Rebirth Reliant

The only way to freedom is rebirth. To be born means relianceupon something or someone bigger than us. Someone to nourish and protect us as we are taught to live fully. Rebirth is a reliance on a new way of living. Isaiah has been living as the people lived and he owns it- but with the touch of a coal to his lips, his spirit is cleansed and his lips are on fire for the Lord. There is no room for him to speak softly and carefully, but only with passion and truth. Nicodemus must also be reborn- to let go of the worldly ways as he knows it, the political game playing and alliances to instead cling to a world where God is the center. “God so loved the WHOLE world that he gave his son…in order that the world might be saved by him.” This God, who is so big, is on the side not just of Jews or Christians, but of humanity and we risk losing sight and being reliant on the spirit of slavery if we imagine God is reliant on our interests in a partisan way.

We are not removed from our circumstance by rebirth. We are still aware of the politics and wars of our world, the loss all people sustain in them and we are not called to forget or ignore the pain and loss of the world. In fact, we are called to honor that loss, as we do this Memorial Day weekend. But we are called to shift our reliance because God is not reliant upon our interests or imperfections. Rather, we are reliant upon God’s interests and perfect and all encompassing love for the entire world- for Jerusalem and Assyria. It is a new and scary reliance- one that decimates the way the world tells us to find our value and purpose. But it is the rebirth in the Holy Spirit that will nourish us come what may. The Spirit will nourish us at God’s breast (Isa 49:15, 1The 2:7) as a hen covers her chicks (Luke 13:34)- until the day we are able to stand with burning lips and answer God’s question, “whom shall I send? Who will go?”

Spirit Powered Call

Turning points are scary- I don’t know of any call stories for pastors that were an easy yes answer, and in all honesty, I don’t know of any call story at all that was an easy yes. Every one of us stands there in a naked or underwear moment afraid of what is ahead. But when you wake up and stand in the dark of night, wondering, “can I do this?” No matter what the turning point is, whether it looms with fear and sorrow or joy and potential for life, you do not stand alone. Isaiah did not stand alone in that throne room, God was with him. Nicodemus did not stand in the dark alone, Jesus was with him. And you do not stand alone now at whatever turning  point you stand at, for through the Holy Spirit, the triune God is with you now, and forever. This is what it is to have a Spirit powered call- to know we are not alone. We can stand, with burning lips and say, “here I am Lord, send me.”

Love that is Life

It has been growing- this message I am writing today. And this week, I have been bombarded by the Holy Spirit to finally preach it. Please pray for the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart as well as the hearts and spirits of those in addiction crisis.

In John 15:9-17, Jesus tells us to love our neighbor. Then he tells us there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life. A commandment to love and sacrifice for one another. 1st John tells us these (God’s) commandments are not burdensome. And this all makes me sad, guilty, and then angry. Sad because I do love my neighbor. But some of them cannot recieve that love. Guilty because I refuse to lay my life down to some neighbors. It would not help them. And then angry, because I am tired of the way addiction takes every good thing and leaves it in ruins. And Jesus is tired too.

Can you hear the exasperated “I LOVE you” in these passages? (Credit Rev Katy Stenta, link below)It’s like a parent who repeats 20 times before leaving, “no parties, no friends over, no going out.” These are words of love and guidance to live by while the guardian is out. Jesus understands he will not be with them, with us, in the corporeal sense much longer. But he does leave them with his Spirit in both commandment and presence.

These are important scriptures and I need you to read and hear them for their value. Then I need you to understand that there are new rules when addiction enters the picture. There are new boundaries and definitions that are life-giving even in the face of death and destruction that addiction leaves in it’s wake.

So hear me now. This sermon is about love in the face of addiction. Do not twist my words- because addiction has already twisted the promise and word of God and we must break free of that malicious lie. Addiction affects nearly every home in some way- it can take the form of gambling, food, sex, drugs, technology, cruelty, alcohol and more. Addiction cuts us off from life and relationship with each other and God. Most importantly, I need you to hear that addicts are God’s children. But addiction is NOT. Addiction is evil and life consuming. It does not give life- it takes it, by hook or by crook, it steals in pennies and pounds. Even so, we are called to love indiscriminately- to love our neighbor with tenacity, patience, generosity, and joy. The trick is learning what Love is and looks like in the face of addiction.

Love is LifE

Last week I preached and begged you to just hear and receive that you are loved and created in love to be loved, to give love, to BE love in the world. But that first you must receive it. Pure and perfect, Love gives hope and help. It lifts us up in the dark places so that we can keep dancing- even in the dark. Yet as a person who has a loved one in the grip of addiction, I feel sad, guilty, and angry when I hear the love passages. Because the things I do don’t feel like love according to the world. But they are love according to God. And that is what I want you to hear today.

Our congregation is in crisis. Nearly half of the people of our regular worship attendance are living with or loving someone in active addiction crisis. We are called into community in our baptism and part of being community is bearing one another’s burdens. That is love. But it is also love to be transparent and real. It is love to throw off the ugly mantle and shackles of shame and share the burden of addiction with others so that we can be community together. But we have to start somewhere, so: I have a son who suffers from drug addiction. He is in VERY recent recovery. Every day I wonder if he is ok. Every day I wonder if addiction will take back over because this recovery is so new. Every time my phone rings from him I am afraid. Every day it doesn’t ring I am afraid. Every time. Addiction is part of my family life now and even though he is now in recovery, we are still in crisis and we covet your prayers.

The mysteries of scripture are profound and deep. The moment we think we understand them, they well up new ideas and applications. Love in scripture is one such topic that continues to garner new thought and application. Love is not just a feeling. It is not just an action. It is what flows from the Spirit, it is what life is created in and is nurtured by. And I feel sad because addiction steals and twists our feelings and actions of love. It turns the love of a parent or child that is not a burden according to 1st John, into guilt and mind games.

When we are told to give love freely, it means to love without expectation of anything in return. We can love our neighbor by bringing them meals and spending time with them, but when it comes to addiction, it is often given with the expectation, or at least hope, that they will get clean and sober. That isn’t the love we are called to give. We have to indiscriminately love our addicts with no expecation of healing or hope for the future. That is where it becomes commandment- because let me tell you, it is not easy to love someone who has stolen trust from you.

Giving without boundaries or consideration for the damage living without boundaries can cause is not love, it is enabling. Love is not enabling. Love is not guilt. It is not bruises or poverty. It is not trust in the face of truth that demands distrust. It is not spiritually decimating. Love is life giving. Anything else is a fake. Don’t fall for it. Love is Christ and life, not death and guilt. We can and should love our addicted people indiscriminately. Which means we cannot enable them. Stopping enabling is LOVE according to Jesus. He loved indiscriminately and he also told sinners to stop their ways and go forward into life and health.

I feel guilty. I said I will not lay my life down for some of my neighbors. I refer to the addicts in my life who are in active addiction crisis. Scripture tells us that love is to give freely of oneself. Addiction says that too. But addiction doesn’t value the sanctity of life. It consumes to death and then moves on. The Bible reminds us that life is precious, crafted by God and worthy of redemption and healing. It tells us to honor life, to nurture it and to protect it. It tells us to celebrate it and not to squander it. God gave the us boundaries to live within which honor life and guide us away from that which brings death, either here or eternally. To lay down your life is sacrifice. But sacrifice that does not bring life is worthless sacrifice. That is why Christ came to die for us. He understood meaningless sacrifice and gave us a way to stop it.

Addiction will take life and it does not feel guilt. That is how addiction works. It is an endless pit of lies to the addict’s spirit and body. Giving of ourselves freely to one in addiction is to literally give them death, not life. It is not life-giving and it is most certainly not love. It is called enabling. Enabling is giving in and being held hostage to the evil that is addiction. So no. I will not lay my life down for my addict. I love them too much. I will trust in the scripture that gives me healthy boundaries to live by- to nurture and care for that which is life-giving, not life-taking.

And I feel angry. Addiction has shitty boundaries. It doesn’t give a moment’s thought for ruining the joy of an ordination that was 13 years in the making. It doesn’t care for the heart of children who miss their mother and wonder why she won’t call. It doesn’t replace the stolen items in a grandparents house. And it sure doesn’t feel apologetic when a life is harmed or taken from drunk driving. I am angry that it is here among us and we must face it. I am angry that we cannot love freely and have to play mind games to figure out if our love is healthy or enabling. I am angry that one in the grip of addiction cannot see how they are perfectly beloved in Christ.

Wherever you are in the battle with addiction, Love is life. And it begins with Christ. Christ loved us indiscriminately. From women at the well on their 5th “husband” to adulterers, to the outcasts of society, he loved. He loved so much that he gave his life for us and gifted us the reminder and promise in communion and baptism. Through the Holy Spirit which he spilled out among us we are called to the renewing waters of baptism where we are born anew in his great love. Through the sacrament of bread and wine broken together we are nourished to love and live in community. Even community that faces addiction. Despite addiction. The key is doing it together, with each other, with Christ. Because in Christ, with Christ, through Christ, we are saved and given new life.

Given new life in Christ, we are called to share that life with others. We are called to sacrifice in ways that are life giving. We are called to love freely and in ways that always give LIFE. This is the love to which we are commanded. This is the love which we are given. Love that is life.

I am eternally grateful fur the enduring wisdom of many pastors out in the webs…today, I referenced Rev Katy Stenta’s blog in my sermon. Check out her post about exasperated and Easter love.

It’s not my power- Thank GOD!

Easter 4 B-April 22, 2018-Hope Lutheran Church, Riverside, CA

I am the Door, the Gate, the Way
Shepherds are a fertile image for the people who live close to the land, which of course, we rarely do in places like the greater Los Angeles Basin. They understood the metaphorical implications in ways we do not. Each year, you hear this passage in church and I am sure that over time you will learn many of the metaphors of this passage. Today though, I want you to hear the metaphor for a shepherd and what that means. At night the shepherd would craft a make-do pen of rocks and branches. Rather than crafting a
door, the shepherd would lay himself down in the opening, becoming the actual door to the dangers of the world. When Christ declares himself a shepherd, he proclaims what we see over and over again, that he is the door, the gate, the way. But for more reasons than can be covered in one sermon, instead of the way into death and danger, he is the way of truth and life.

My own know my voice
Sheep knew their shepherds voices. From a distance a yodel or call from just the right voice would bring just the right sheep coming in for protection, leaving the others behind. Like the response of a newborn babe to voices that they were exposed to in the womb, there is an autonomic response. It is as though they did not need to think, they just knew. This is a voice in whom I am loved and cared for. Christ is clear that when we are his, we know him, we respond to him and we trust in him.

There are other sheep
But he also talks about other sheep. The John text on the good shepherd this morning is Jesus interpretation of John 9, where a blind man is healed. It is important to realize this man is not Jewish, to him, Jesus should be a nobody- not even on his radar, let alone a teacher and prophet of any sort. The miracle here is not only that the man was healed. Rather, that his life was transformed and he found new being, not just new sight. His life went from sitting in mud to being able to be a productive participant in community. He could earn a living, could marry, could be considered “one of the rest of us.” He was no
longer a random guy who did not belong because he was different. But he was not a follower of Jesus and he was not a Jew and he did not follow the rules in any way. His
very blindness made him and outcast as though he chose to be blind. Yet he knew Jesus voice; he was one of the other sheep that followed and knew Jesus in another way.

And Jesus claimed him.

Jesus healed him and led him into life and newness of being.

Unauthorized and dangerous.
In the Acts reading, the disciples are on trial. They stand declaring through whom they have healed a man, just as Jesus instructed and equipped them to do. But to those they were gathered in front of, this was unauthorized healing- it was dangerous and unknown as the proper way of doing things. It was inexplicable and thus, not acceptable.
Sometimes, in the church, we respond the same way.

The idea of giving a small child communion can create controversy because it is not the way it has been done. The idea that a child can understand the implications of the bread and wine just as an experienced adult goes against our “knowledge” and tradition. And yet, I am often more impressed with a child’s simple and solid knowledge that this is absolutely given “for you” because “Jesus loves you” than by an educated adult’s expression of what communion means. It is controversial because we cannot explain the work of the Holy Spirit let alone how it works in a small child. It is controversial because it is not what we believe to be true or explainable.

So, too,  is the idea that there may be other ways to follow Christ. It is unauthorized and dangerous to consider that maybe we don’t have the only way to Christ. It is a theological earthquake of epic proportions to consider that being a Lutheran/Christian is way to Christ, but in the end, we are not Christ and thus not THE way. Because the only gate, the only door, the only WAY is THROUGH Christ. And even though we may not like it, even though we cannot explain it, the sheep of Jesus Christ know his voice and follow him. Which means we cannot argue that we know the only way to follow Christ, only he can know and only he can judge. What matters is that we do not have the power and he does.

Thank
God.

The Power of Laying Down his Life
It boils down to the fact that Jesus has the power.

All of it.

Not us; not humanity. We are truly powerless. In our corporate confession we state that we understand we cannot free ourselves from sin and the truth is not in us. But God who is faithful and just still forgives our sin. The power is, was and always remains God’s. And as part of the Triune God, Jesus holds the power over who is his. Not us.
On the night he is betrayed, he chooses to come out of the Garden, leaving the sheep protected in the garden. He chooses to come away. He chooses to be arrested and tried. Christ never loses his agency in this- his power and control remains his even in the moment of giving up his last breath. Every last second he is in control and his power is fully his- even when it looks like humanity had it.

The Act of Love
When Christ lays down his life, it sounds like an act of imperialistic violence, degradation, and shame (thanks and credit Workingpreacher.org!)And while it is all of these things, it is most fully an act of Love. It is an act of selfless giving that we can
only hope to copy but never achieve on our own. It is an act of welcome- to offer up his life even for those who do not yet know him, but will recognize his voice when they hear it. It isn’t our power or our choice to love that decides who is saved and right about how to get to heaven. It is always about God’s sovereignty- Jesus agency and power.

And our choice is in this: that we can love. We can try to love like Jesus did- with open and forgiving hearts. We can love abundantly and trust that even if we get it all wrong, even if we are like sheep and dumb as rocks and can’t find our way, Christ is still watching over us and will call us into the fold at the end of the day. We can love EVERY single person in front of, beside, and around us without reserve because it doesn’t
matter if we are right or not. Jesus has the power, Jesus chose to love us first and his love, his forgiveness, and his power are the way to everlasting life.

I am Witness.

Easter III Year B, Sermon

I am witness.  

While living in Florida, we were dirt poor.  Lance was a reservist and was working on his degree, but we had nearly no income.  We lived in government subsidized housing, or as some will know it, Housing Authority.  We were so grateful for a roof over our heads. It was a difficult time and we were surrounded by folks who had little hope.  The evidence of it was all around us- broken homes, broken bodies, and drug use were of the pain and attempts to ease or escape it..  

So it was no surprise that a drug deal went badly.  And the fall out happened in our front yard, where my 4 small children had been playing only 2 minutes before.  Our neighbor was shot multiple times. Immediately after, he was pulled into another car, bleeding and crying out.  And we witnessed it. We were not alone in the witness. When I called my children in to wash up for dinner, I had seen porches full of people.  Yet when the detective came around, it turned out that Lance and I were the only “witnesses” to be found. Our lives became a living hell from the moment we went on record and witnessed to the detective.  

We are witness

What does it mean to be witness? It is a two part verb.  It is to see and know, but to witness also has a follow up action- it is to declare what we see and know.  For example, “she witnessed the accident” and “she witnessed in court.” For the sake of this sermon and simplicity, I will call the second part “bearing witness.”  I do so because I believe it is a burden we carry- and we do not have choice in it when we put on the name of Christ.

What does witness require of us? In many ways, the first part of witnessing we have no choice in.  We cannot choose to be a witness to something- it simply is or is not an event or circumstance that we are a part of in some way.  We cannot make up that we saw something we did not. However, in the second part of witness, we are given a small bit of agency (will to act for ourselves.)  We are able to bear witness to the circumstances that lead us to believe that something has or has not occurred. There is a birthday cake in the Gathering Place this morning.  If we go in and there is a finger of icing missing, we do not need to have been there to bear witness to the fact that indeed, someone enjoyed a bit of icing early. We could all see the evidence that icing is missing and in the shape of a finger swipe.  No need for DNA analysis or first hand accounts of it happening. It is obvious. Yet, we have a choice in bearing this sort of witness.

We are witness to the Crucifixion.  

While we are not first hand witnesses of Christ, we do actually bear witness to the effects and history as well as the current work of Christ in our lives.  One did not need to be there to see the difference in how a person of faith can live their final days with cancer.. I am not saying faith and the hope of the future automatically gives us grace and patience.  But without it- there is none to be had.

Peter was witness.  He had seen and lived following Christ.  He knew his power and yet, when he denied to those around the fire, he denied only to himself- the folks who accused him already knew.  He could not escape his witness of Christ and neither can I.

Witness of the evils today

I need not be direct witness to an exact evil, but only be aware of it and see the signs of it, even if in the negative  in order to bear witness to the evil among us. This week the news has been heavy and it has been doubled down by statistics that anger and frighten me. The Syrian conflict has been ongoing.  Nearly countless lives have been lost. 5 million Syrians seek refuge. That is approximately the entire population of both Orange and Riverside Counties. Yet, I do not see and hear of Syrians flooding our nation.  Rather, I hear of congregation after congregation prepared to receive them and none come. These congregations have done the work to partner with the state department and are certified refugee resettlement partners. And yet they wait with no word of families in need.  Because in our fear, only 11 Syrians have been let to resettle here in the United States this year. 11.

I do not need to see the Syrians to know they are out there in need- the world has born witness.  I also do not need to see them personally to have the refugee partners bear witness that they are not engaged with new refugees.  And I do not need to see the eyes of those who suffered the chemical attacks or the subsequent NATO approved bombings to try to take out chemical facilities this past week to bear witness to the fact that we as a nation are complicit in the death of innocent lives.  Because they are not here being saved and protected. That means by simple math, they are out there, desperate for safety.

What Shall I do?

If you recall my opening story of witness you may wonder what the difference was between my family and many of the others whom we knew also bore witness.  We had hope for the future. Lance and I had seen and experienced a wide world already and knew that things can change. We knew he was working toward his degree and that we could find financial security once more.  We knew the future had good and different things prepared for us. But many of the families there did not. Of course they all had heard of college- but few of them had any clue how to get there, let alone a real belief they could.  They had lived generationally poor in education, finances and hope of achieving either. For them, to witness would be a dead end road- a promise of being followed and likely shot, if nothing else, they would be ostracized in their community forever.  For me, it was not. I knew we would not be there forever. I knew there was hope.

Beloved, in our world of hopeless news stories, we are the ones who hold the different witness.  We are the ones who hold hope for the future. We have seen the evidence of Christ in our lives. We have seen the dance of the Holy Spirit moving among us and changing hearts and spirits.  We have glimpsed the promise of what is to come. And we are called to bear witness to it. We do bear witness to it- with our very bodies- even if not our voices.

Every time you reach out a hand and help you bear witness.  Every time you smile you bear witness. Every time you cut someone off, curse them out, or are dismissive or judging, you bear witness.  And every time you love beyond reason you bear witness.

I do not have an answer to the Syrian crisis or any other crisis of life in our world.  I wish I did. I have cried out like the Psalmists, in desperate plea and do not have an answer.  This past week was International Holocaust Rememberance Day. It was meant to be a day to bear witness- to remember the trauma and cost of humanity in the days before, during and following Nazi rule.  It was to remember innocent lives left because others would not bear witness by first choosing not to see. Then, not to speak, and finally not to act. Our nation and other countries not directly impacted,  were complicit in letting it get to atrocity and we then paid the cost of our sin by holding ourselves accountable and paying with precious lives to correct the sin we allowed to run rampant in our world.

This is the sin our first reading calls us to repent from.  We ARE witness to our world and what happens in it. We cannot avoid it.  But how we choose to bear witness matters too. And we are called in our baptismal waters to bear witness with integrity.  We are called to bear witness to Christ’s suffering and to his risen presence among the disciples as proof that we are forgiven and there is more than life lived in fear and defensiveness.  There is promise and hope for more- for grace and mercy to flow like Niagara Falls- bountiful presence in every Eucharistic meal. Peace to be found in locked rooms and a Christ who comes to us just where we are- always with us, never forsaking us and bearing witness to God’s infinite and forgiving love for us.  

This week- go out and live like this.  Live like we have hope- Live as witness to the promise and presence of Christ among us now.  For this, we are called. For this we are bound. For this, we are born again.

Making our Joy Complete

Easter II- Year B Sermon

 

“We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.”

The words of the Gospel of Christ and the new church were written for us-a gift from the past to sustain the future, our eternal one, but also equally important, the current one.

John shares with us that there is joy in being community- because he writes these things so that the joy of the new church may be complete- by sharing.  

Many would struggle

The writer John, not to be confused with John the Baptizer, understood that we would struggle today because the young church was already struggling.  History tells us of the struggles as the word spread via story. This was a different story, not like the ancient stories that are memorized and did not change from generation to generation of verbal story telling.  This was a new one. It was getting told as personal and second hand experience. It had not been committed to memory by a storyteller yet- it was the average person sharing. This struggle would be so profound that within 2 lifetimes, a creed was necessary.  John The Evangelist, who wrote the Gospel of John and at least the first of the 3 epistles of John, trained Polycarp and Polycarp trained Iraeneus. It is in Iraeneus’ writings we first see a creed- the precursor of what we know today as the Apostles Creed. And that would not be the end of the creedal war- just the beginning.

This was necessary because followers were already arguing over things like the Gnosticism (the idea we can learn our way to eternal life) or the Quartodeciman Controversy which argued over whether and if so, which days Christians are supposed to celebrate the Passover Feast.  

If you think we have too much controversy now, let me tell you, it was no different in the early church.  We are humans trying to understand God! No wonder then that folks would struggle.

Some would doubt

In fact, some of even the first hand accounts would even doubt.  Beloved Thomas is an example, along with Peter and the Beloved Disciple (name unknown) who had to run to the tomb to see for themselves.  Somehow though we forget that Peter and The beloved disciple didn’t believe in the midst of Thomas’ doubt. There is a cartoon circling now about how “the guys will take it from here now, Mary” referencing that even though Mary was the first to witness and spread the Gospel of the Risen Christ, this is set aside and that she is dismissed in history’s telling in deference to the men.  I am not saying that it was sexism at play, but it has had an effect throughout the remainder of history and even impacts us today. When I am out in public in my clerical collar, I am repeatedly asked how I think I am justified or qualified to share the gospel since I am a woman. But I digress.

The point is, Thomas was not the only doubter who wanted to see to believe.  And when Jesus first shows himself to “the guys” in a locked room, Thomas is not there.  He is in fact the only one courageous enough to be out and about in a very dangerous and volatile time.  They have all had the benefit of seeing to believe, but he missed it.

I think what happens with Thomas makes him my favorite disciple.  You see, he has the courage to say, “I know you all believe. But I didn’t see what you did.  I am just not able to believe. I need to see what you saw- in fact, the reality is, I can’t even believe if I see, I need more. “  

This is deeply courageous to say to your closest friends of faith that you are just not there.  And I wonder how much we all might gain if we crafted a place where people feel safe to be like Thomas and admit their doubt and lack of faith.  

Christ met the need right where they were

Because here is the thing, Christ met Thomas in his need- he didn’t just show up, he invited him to touch and feel the reality of his wounds to assure Thomas he was not dreaming.  Thomas said, I need more. I am just not there. And Jesus response was, Ok- let me help you believe. Let me let you SEE first hand.

We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete- our community is in God through Jesus Christ

And that is what we are called to as the church. To do the same as the early church like it noted in John and Acts: to provide for every need in our community.  To share freely everything. Our time, our money, our property, our lives, our story and our love. It goes against every capitalistic bone in our bodies- and it did then too.  

John shares with us that there is an utter joy in this sharing- because he writes these things so that the joy of the new church may be complete- by sharing.  It takes courage to share- and it takes even more courage to receive. Imagine the courage it took for Thomas to stick his hand in Jesus side? Imagine the risk he was taking- if it was an illusion his world would be shattered.  If it was true- it would be turned upside down forever.

So how do we do this?  Well, we have been given a great commission:  we can forgive the sins of any and we can hold tightly to them until they too believe.  Take a moment and look closer at the Gospel in the original language and it will reveal that it never actually said we could hold onto the sins of others.  As my professor, Dr Mary Hinkle Shore points out translation work by Sandra Schneiders, the text actually reads:   “A more adequate reading would be the following: ‘Of whomever (possessive genitive plural) you forgive the sins, they (the sins) are forgiven to them; whomever (objective genitive plural) you hold fast [or embrace], they are held fast.

In this then, we are given our task- to meet our community where they are- each member in their faith and doubt and to offer to them the forgiveness of their sins- to let that sin GO.  And we are to hold tightly to them until they can believe for themselves. We are to love them, to care for them and to nurture them just as they are until they too are ready to believe.  

There are two ways to believe: seeing, which the disciples all had the benefit of, and by faith, unseen.  This is all we have. But the change and gift is so profound when we live in the illumination and promise of Christ that the early church knew their joy would not be complete if they kept it to themselves.  They knew it would only be complete in sharing it.

So hear the words that Christ said to the disciples in their fear in the locked room- even after they had seen him alive:  Peace be with you.

Receive the peace of Christ.  Cling to it- and when you cannot, let us, this community of hope, cling to you; let me as your pastor cling to you until you have the faith to believe.  We will cling to you so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

 

Lent isn’t about you or me and our sacrifice.

Ash Wednesday Sermon- February 14 2018- Year B

It’s not about you. It’s not about me either. It’s a common thing for folks to come to Lent and Ash Wednesday thinking that it’s all about them and their sin and they’re need to repent. They come prepared to spend 40 days thinking about themselves and what they have failed to do. But it’s not about them. It’s not about you. It’s not about me. It’s about God. It’s about God and what God is doing in spite of you and me.

Lent is supposed to be a time for us to ponder what God is doing in our lives, and what we are not letting God do in our lives.

Jesus didn’t go into the wilderness to focus on himself. He went so that he could focus on what God was doing in him and through him in the world. He went into the desert to pray so that he could get out of his own way and focus on God and God’s promise for us that he was to live out in the world.

When he returned from the wilderness, he went into community and he called people to action. Christ tells us to pray, yes, but overwhelmingly more so, he calls us to action in response to the gifts God has given us. He calls us to action to care for creation and the ones around us.

When we speak of ashes we are supposed to be thinking about how temporary our life is. We are supposed to be remembering that God created us, loves us, redeems us, and returns us back to God’s bosom when the fleeting days of life here end.  Today, that reality has been made far too real for hundreds of families in Florida. As I followed the images and stories of the high school shooting there, I was moved to frustration and tears by the image of a stoic woman with ashes on her forehead holding another devastated woman as she sobbed. And then to social media where everyone is calling for prayer. But I am tired of hearing our children will be prayed for when we can do something to save them.

This sermon is NOT about telling you who should own guns or how many. It is about telling you our children are DYING and our answer so far has been to pray. It was not enough to save those 20 who died today. Prayer did not get a young man who desperately needed mental health care what he needed before he destroyed his life along with dozens of others.

Our Gospel tonight reminds us that where our treasure is, there our heart will be also. Is your heart found among providing safety for our children? Or is your heart found among your individual rights to own things?

Is it found in creating and supporting accessible and affordable mental health care? Or among capitalism and getting ahead?   Is it in trusting yourself and your defenses or in God and what God can do for you and with you?

These are hard things to hear and they are harder to say. I don’t know the answers, but I know that what we are doing as communities of faith is NOT enough. Every one of you would not rely on prayer if there was medicine or surgery to save a loved one, would you not? Then why are we relying solely on prayer to save our most innocent and vulnerable among us?

Lent is not about you, but it is about what God is doing for and with you in this world and community. It is about what God is doing through our community together. Fasting and prayer are not enough. We are called to more in our faith. We are called to love, to honor, to lift the yoke of burden and let our light break forth like the dawn.

Tonight, there is no comfort for those families. There is no comfort for a parent whose arms will forever remain empty from here forward.

In such tragedy, promise of eternal life is paltry and weak in the face of not getting to see their child and kiss their face again, even in death. It does not comfort them right now. It is too far off and the devastation is just too close.

As we move into lent, look around you and see the brambles and branches, the hard and scratchy places we must move through as we look inside our own hearts to see that Jesus came for the world- and that we are called into caring for that world.

The time ahead may feel lonely and desolate, yet we have the promise that was unknown before Christ died for us- we have the promise of God with us- always.  We are not entering the wilderness alone- rather with Christ.  And for this, if for nothing else in the midst of worldly pain, we are grateful.

God Cried Out, Too

Palm/ Passion Sunday

25 March 2018

Life is hard. Recently I was reminded to count myself lucky that this hand injury was not something life threatening like cancer. The man went on to share the story of his brother’s recent discovery of metastasized bone cancer. In nearly whispered tones he asked, what kind of God does that? My only answer was, “not a God I can believe in.”

Day after day I hear the anguish of humanity around me. Anguish over missing having a home to live in, money to pay the basic bills like medicine and food, let alone water and lights. Anguish over divorce, losing a very alive child to the life of addiction, or worse, losing them to death from addiction. Anguish over good people who live last days dragged out in pain and finally die agonizing deaths from cancer, MS, heart disease, diabetes. I hear and see women crying out for safety, to be seen as valued, as more than objects of desire. Yesterday, I heard children crying out to be safe at school and parents angry over having to choose education or life for their children. And even this morning my heart cried out in anguish over missing my mother in law, even 2 years after her death.   But I am aware I manage to go on. And some folks don’t. Their anguish over losing a loved one is simply inconsolable.

What kind of God does that? What kind of God takes children, mothers, helpers, healers? What kind of God decides to give someone a dreaded disease or make them suffer addiction? My answer has not changed. Not the kind of God I can believe in. Not my God.

Not the God who we will read about today.

Not the God who missed us so much that the Son was sent to be with us. To feel the coolness of air against his sweaty skin, to feel the kiss of his mothers tender lips against his cheek, to feel the sting of the whip, to feel the crush of the cross as it drowned him in his own flesh.
Not the God who ate with the dredges of society because he saw them as absolutely precious. Not the God who taught us it wasn’t about exact translations of the law but about the intent, the greater purpose.

Not the God who begged not to be left alone to pray, or who made sure his mother was in the hands of another to care for her as he hung dying. Not the God who cried out. That God, our God, who did all these things loves us too much to make us suffer.

I believe in The God. The one who knew our anguish personally so that he could bring us back into right relationship.   The one who would give up heaven and then earth to show us how much we are loved. The one who came for us, left the Spirit to remain with us and promises we are never alone.

I believe in that God. Because that God, my God, the God of Salvation through the death of the Son and the presence of the Holy Spirit, Our God, the one I can put my trust in, Cried out in anguish too. God knows our anguish. Felt it at the moment of sinful separation and for eons since. And God felt our pain and sorrow, our anger and fear, our humiliation and our frustration. God felt our anguish and cried out. That is not the kind of God who punishes us and takes babies to make angels of them. Our God is with us. Loves us. Desires us. Knows us. Remains with us.

Listen then, to the passion of our Lord, according to Mark the fourteenth and fifteenth chapters.