The Cost of Transfiguration is Change

Transfiguration Year C 2019.        Riverside CA

Hope Lutheran Church               March 3, 2019

Are you here to be changed?  I mean really actually changed?   Transfiguration is defined as a complete change of form or appearance into a more beautiful or spiritual state. To be transfigured is a “no going back” moment.  We cannot go back to the way we were- a simpler state that is unaware.  As disciples of Christ, our goal is to be transfigured every day to be more and more like our Lord and the goal of worship is to be changed not just for the duration of worship, but for every day until we can return to renew our Spirit in worship.

Some days I think we forget that.  In fact, we forget it so well, that we could write books on how we as Lutherans, let alone Christians don’t change. (ask for jokes- use light bulb)  Yet our story as disciples of Christ is supposed to be one of change- of being changed in baptism and then through death of Christ into life. The disciples fail to heal the boy because they have not been changed yet.  Even though they saw Christ transfigured, saw Elijah and Moses, they are still not changed- they remain unfaithful.

But God has made changes in order to retrieve us into right relationship again- mostly because we won’t change.  We harden our hearts and continue to apply the law where Christ has applied Grace. We refuse to be changed and if we refuse to be changed, we cannot bring about the change Christ tasks us with as disciples. Instead, We keep asking the ones who need us to change to meet us where we are, rather than going to them where they are.  When we do this, we fail to heal, to offer God’s good love into the world and in essence, stand powerless like the disciples.

Transfiguration has a price.  And for Jesus the cost is death. His transfiguration had a price because when Christ was changed by his time with God while in his human form, his divinity was made known to those around him.  It was the arc of his story- the moment we are all able to look back on and realize was the shift in the story for him. He could no longer deny who he was or what he was about.

Moses experienced the same and the Israelites wanted Moses to cover his face because they were afraid of God- afraid because they were not reconciled with God in Jesus Christ. They were unable to accept that God had seen one of them and lived- they were lacking in faith of the power of God’s immeasurable love.  The veil in the temple had not been torn yet. But for us it has. For if we are changed, We do not need to hide the change wrought in us, as Moses did.

The law was made to ensure life.  And God changed the law as needed.  The problem is that we stopped putting our canon together after about 500 years after Christ’s Death.  We stopped writing down the story of how God is working in our lives and changing us. The early Christian community struggled with the application of the law and the reality is that we still struggle with it.  We pick and choose the laws we think apply and sometimes, like in the case of women leadership, we even made up laws that were never given by God.

We need not hide our changed selves anymore- the world will be afraid, as the Israelites were afraid of Moses, but we are called to normalize that change, becoming like Christ to them.  It will challenge their very core and at times, we will want to hide- because we are changed into someone different- who glows with the knowledge of God’s deep and abiding love and we are empowered to be that love for the world.

That is what Christ was transfigured for. Love.  That is what Christ died for. Love. That is what God sent Jesus for. Love.  To be changed radically by that love, to be transfigured into a truly loving and openly welcoming people is scary for the world to see.  We cannot go back from it. So we have two choices- either live love full out and trust in the fullness of God’s love and Christ’s crucifixion or we can hesitate and hide behind the veil of fear and law.

This past week the United Methodist Church voted on the same issue the  ELCA did in 2009- the personhood of LGBTQ+ clergy. This is a tough topic because at the very root it requires us to trust that God knew what God was doing in creating a human being and that we cannot decide whom God calls to lead us- only God can do that.  Homosexuality is a huge topic and one that challenges the past 1000 years or so of Christian teaching. We have put all the expectation of change on their being, rather than on us and our comfort. It isn’t as simple as “reading the Bible” because that often means textproofing the Bible.

When we have studied scripture in it’s fullness, with historical setting, sociological application, and cultural implication, including all the additional books not in our canon, we are able to get a clearer picture in the arc of God’s story with us.  The story is about love and it is about us being willing to change ourselves, to see that God is calling us to love like God loves- with wild abandon and desperate measures to be in relationship with us. It requires us to change the way we see the world when we see God- to love with radical hospitality that challenges the laws and ways of doing things just as Christ did.

In many ways, I think the fear of acknowledging and affirming our LGBTQ+ siblings boils down to the idea that we are somehow answerable. So we live in fear and not in faith. And Yes, We are answerable for them.  When they turn to drugs to hide the pain, when they are denied full access to the community of Christ for being who God created them to be, when they die of suicide because they cannot change their very personhood, we are answerable. We are answerable for failing to heal and be faithful to them as Christ would have been.

The good news is that there is no sin Christ has not overcome, including our fear of being changed so that we might be able to bring about healing in the community as well.  And even if we have misinterpreted scripture by affirming them as precious and God created, we have done so in the name of Love.

Our siblings in Christ are hurting and afraid and need to see evidence of God’s grace and love. It is not our job to put a veil up between them and God when Jesus has torn it apart.  It is our job to put the veil down, to live into our transfiguration in Christ and let the world see the changes God has wrought in us as a people who are redeemed and set free by grace.

There is a cost to being changed.  It means we cannot unknow the things we have learned.  We cannot deny the love of Christ and the Transfiguration in our own hearts and lives.  Who are we to deny that same love and grace to the world.

I know this is a hard sermon to hear for some of us.  I know I may have an inbox full of argument and disappointment this week.  But the reality is this- We are not divine. We do not get to choose for whom grace is won on the cross.  If we are changed in Christ, then we are Christ to the world and Christ never did say no- he offered another way and invited even the most unwelcome to his table.  If you are changed in Christ, set the veil aside, let the world see the glow of God’s love and grace and start and end with Love for them, as Christ loved you first.

The Lord bless you and keep you

The Lord make His face to shine upon you

And be gracious unto you

The Lord lift up His face to you

And give you peace (Numbers 6:25-26)

 

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                                                                                                                                                                    Epiphany 3C ~  Hope Lutheran Church    ~   Riverside, CA    ~   January 27, 2019

The body tells the story.   (ask for examples from those present)

As you hear, each scar has a story.  It is a part of the body that we can see and tells our history and often, can indicate where we are going as well.  There are other stories the body tells us, from a lack or abundance of smile wrinkles, hair that grows back a different color after Chemo or turns overnight after a trauma, the slow movement during cold weather of an arthritic joint after a fracture years before, and visible signs of conditions we cannot see with the eye- like the butterfly patch of someone with Lupus.  

Modern science and medicine teach us that past trauma can also be stored in the body, through the skin and muscles, creating trigger points that are tender. There is growing evidence of the connection between ancient traditions that understood the connection between experiences of life and problems in the body- such as women who have been sexually assaulted having unexplained pelvic problems- connecting the story of fear and sexuality in the most sensible place of the body to put it.  

The body tells a story and when we do not pay attention we suffer as a person.  Have you ever felt an itch in your shoe, only to realize after it is too late that it was a new blister forming?  What about the scab that didn’t heal and turned out to be skin cancer? The ache in the tooth that could have been crowned but you waited too long and it had to be a root canal?  The twinges in your back that eventually led to days on end in bed?

Our body is telling a story.  And when we don’t listen, when we don’t care for a part of the body as it begins to speak to us, it will eventually be screaming in agony.  

So, here is Paul speaking to Corinth about being one body. As one body,  Paul means that we are one system of mutual support and union with all parts.  If an infection happens in the toe, the whole body responds and if it is ignored by another part, such as our mind intentionally ignoring it, eventually the whole body suffers and the infection spreads.  Paul is speaking to a group of folks who just don’t seem to get it- so he is repeating himself in many ways to get the point across- he is telling them that they are unique and maybe even quite different from each other, but that they need to remember they are unified in Christ.  

Recently I was asked if women of faith should march in the women’s march.  I understood what they meant- there is a huge chasm between the topics of prolife and prochoice that has risen up in past years at the march.  Some assume marching means a woman is one or the other. I was able to explain that while this is a difference of perspective of the sanctity of life, in the end, the march is not about this topic at all, but about the commonality of women, who all face the struggles of their gender in the world together.  How they each face their personal struggle is not the point, rather the point of the march is to face it together, not alone. But there are always people who like to divide. Corinth was doing a bang up job of that, differentiating between the haves and have nots, the jews and gentiles, the men and women. Paul is reprimanding them because their differences are important and necessary, all part of being one unified body in Christ.  

So what does all this mean for us?  It means we need to be listening to our body- here at Hope, here in Riverside, here in North America, here on this earth.  Our body is telling us a story and parts of it are crying out. Parts of us are past warning itches and little aches. We are suffering raging infections that are systemically spread through every inch of the Lutheran Church, the Protestant understanding, and the Christian proclamation.   We have members crying out to be seen, to be welcomed, to be heard, to be understood, to be loved.

If the Body remembers, and is crying out, our response needs to be to hear the cry, to care for the need, to heal the wound.  Just because the big toe doesn’t feel the broken thumb, doesn’t mean the pain and trauma of the thumb are not real or excruciating.  Just so, even if we as an individual do not feel the effects of racism, sexism, ageism or more, doesn’t meant they are not real and painful- as well as damaging to our existence as a whole and healthy body.

In the gospel today, Christ declares “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  But the translation doesn’t do justice, because “fulfilled” is not a past tense verb. The closer translation is that it has been, is being and will continue being fulfilled in our hearing. The poor shall hear good news, the slaves set free, the blind see, and the broken made whole.   This is important because if it happened then, it is also happening in our presence right now, and we are part of it. We have a lot to do. There is a lot of pain. There is a lot of need. Let’s listen. The body remembers. It is telling us a story. Our story. Christ’s story. A loss and lament story, a salvation and redemption story, a hope and healing story.  So let’s begin.

 

To love an addict

my addict is clean. they are healthy- right now.  Yet in every addict I cross on the street, I see them again.  I begin to weep inside and am always picking up the phone to make sure they are still clean.  I am grateful beyond measure every day for this reprieve and pray it lasts.  I am just now beginning to express the pain of the active addiction and what it did to my life and my heart.  I am healing now, we are healing now.  But the past still hurts. and others are still in it.  so here are some thoughts on loving an addict:

to love an addict is… to let things so many small things go.  to give yourself grace and space to not be neurotic about the rules of society and instead to just breathe.  to manage one day to the next with a wall around your heart and still trying to love.  it is to feel like the world is shattering and yet you have to hold it together.

to love an addict is… excruciating.  like harry potter hexes that force screams and spasms of the body, loving an addict does that to the soul. even once they are clean, there is a wondering if they will fall back again and a desperate hope that they won’t because you don’t know if you can bear the pain again. it wracks your body, your mind, your heart and leaves you exhausted.

to love an addict is to know a pain that will never go away.  to welcome a terrorist into your home and life.  And you can either learn to work with them or fight- either way is miserable.  There is no easy out.

to love an addict is to be aware that life is too short.  that drugs steal.  but so does cancer, heart disease and AIDS.  But addiction steals more than life, it steals the things that make life precious- like memories, and hopes, and dreams.  it steals relationships and love.

to love an addict is… never ending.  it is a simultaneous hate and love that force you to lie to yourself that you don’t care about them anymore.  it is to lie to yourself and believe you are moving on. it is to crush hope and trust and if they pop up, to crush them again. viciously. and yet, with every signal of a turn toward health lets hope flourish.  Where does that hope come from and how can I stop it?  It HURTS.

to love an addict is to pray they get arrested or OD but live so they might be forced to get clean in a hospital or prison and you don’t care which one- because either is better than not knowing where they are.

to love an addict is to pray they die sometimes- because then their pain, your pain, all the wondering and worrying and fear and destruction will end.  Instead there will only be sorrow.  But life in full addiction means sorrow is only a condiment in a full buffet of life-sucking emotions. Either way, when you pray that prayer, it is full of guilt and horror.  and you want to take it back. and then you know you really meant it.  but only if this is never going to end.

to love an addict is impossible and unavoidable to choose. addiction hurts. it kills. it devastates.

it isn’t everything, but it feels like it.

and yet we hope for something more.  and sometimes, *sometimes* we get it.  Sometimes we get them back.  and then you grab on with dear life.

 

 

 

 

Life, not death… (Nov 25 sermon Christ the King-Year B)

November 25, 2018                        Hope Lutheran Church                         Riverside, CA

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14                          Rev 1:4b-8                                    John 18:33-37

Grace to you and peace from him who is an who was and who is to come from the seven spirits who are before his throne and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead and the ruler of the kings of this earth.  It’s Christ the King Sunday! It’s Thanksgiving Sunday! None of this is what you think it is.

Thanksgiving isn’t about shopping for the best deal or about sweet little Pilgrims and Americans sharing pumpkin pie.  Christ the King Sunday isn’t about a powerful ruler who wields a sweeping sword and conquers the world. Every part of this weekend, from our national holiday to our Christ the King celebration, is about humility not power about offers of life, not death..  

Thanksgiving was never meant to be a day when we spend more time viewing advertisements or standing in a line to buy things than spending it together and considering the gifts of abundance in our lives.   We weren’t supposed to be focused on taking land or gathering more things. The Pilgrims were saved from sure death by people they did not understand and were rightfully afraid of, who had every right to deny them life and land, but who instead offered them life and room at the table.  Instead of continued thanks, the pilgrims and others who followed them abused the kindness and generosity, taking immoral and deadly advantage. The thanks-giving was honest that first year, I am sure, but once they secured their livelihoods, it changed. We lost the narrative of thanks of what we were saved from – death and  what we were saved for- life- and turned it into a right to destroy the very cultures that gifted us with safety and life.

And I often think we have done the same thing with Jesus Christ.  We have used him to conquer and steal, to control, rather than offer and submit.  I don’t think he would be comfortable with us ever celebrating him as a king of this world the way we think of kings.  Even as he rode into Jerusalem, he knew he was not a king of the world in the way we think. He never meant to commission us to go out and risk the lives of innocents in order to put a notch on our belt by sharing the gospel.  Jesus came to give life, not take it away. And the idea of him as a king is permeated by the preconception of what a king does and how they rule-with power, and might, and swords and law.

Christ the King Sunday, – created on the cusp of WWI as a political tool of the church,  a response to power hungry monarchs. It seems to buy into the need for a powerful ruler who knows the score and  “really” controls the world. It is buoyed by a need to be on the winning side, not the submitting, humbled, and serving side.  But we are talking about Jesus – and if anything is true, he likes to flip the narrative and when we consider scripture, the winners in the New Testament are really never on the side of power.   It was not about power for Jesus, when on the true black Friday, he knelt and submitted to those in power- even offering his life to the one who would betray him. He did this not so he could rule in power and might, but so that we might be given life.  

Sometimes I think those first thanksgiving americans who did not know our God showed more Christian charity than many who came in the name of Christ ever did.  It wasn’t about power when they saved a scraggly, smelly bunch of European cast-offs They did not wish to be subjugated by these aliens or to have their culture destroyed by these strange, pale skinned immigrants, but they saw hungry, pleading strangers, and chose to offer life.   So too, Jesus came to give life not take it away. We weren’t commissioned to follow Christ and share the good news in a way that steals life- because our savior never did that. He showed us how to love with radical hospitality and generosity and told us this is the kind of kingdom he is a part of.  The kind of kingdom we are invited to begin here in our daily living; by feeding the hungry, comfort the grieving, and accompany the lonely.

We are not meant to twist the gifts of Christ, the mission of the church, or our own spiritual path for power, prestige, or even our own sense of evangelical duty.  We are meant to serve, with gentleness and love. We are called to participate in our world and in our thanks by giving that which grants life, not death. Christ didn’t come as a king the way we think, but as a servant, on his knees, washing our feet, as a babe in a filthy manger, as refugee fleeing corrupt government.  He came to give life, not take it away and he did it not in power and prestige, but in humility and thanks. This, is what it is to give thanks. This is what it is serve and to celebrate Christ the king, him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his life blood, and made us to be a kingdom of servants for our God. Happy Thanksgiving and Hosanna to Christ the alpha and omega, the one who is and was and is to come.   

 

The widow’s good news… (Nov 18 Sermon- Pentecost 26 B)

November 18, 2018                        Hope Lutheran Church                       Riverside, CA

The end is coming.  Finally. Oh, not the end from Daniel or the guy on the street corner shouting, I was speaking of the end of the Lectionary year.  Our Lectionary year begins on 1 Advent, and we are nearly to the end of Mark for the year. I also notice, we are on a new “chapter” this Sunday, so let’s take a moment and center our reading with a few “Bible Fun Facts.” First, let’s get rid of all the punctuation; no periods, no comma’s, no exclamation points.  Run it all together and throw out any indicators of beginning of a sentence, such as capital letters, too. Ok, now we are working with something much closer to original Koine Greek.


Next, we need to look at the structure of the book of Mark, which was not in chapters like we have before us now.  Mark is a chiastic structure, which in essence meant to be a circular reading, it loops back on itself. Within that loop, there are 5 narratives that tie  a portrait of Jesus together: The wilderness- (Jesus Suffering and humanity), Galilee (the miracles), The Way (announced as messiah), Jerusalem (the sacrifice), and the tomb (death and resurrection).  The punctuation, paragraphs, and even chapters are all added to the original text to make it easier for us to read. Just one more reason we believe in a living word, that is translated and understood through the Holy Spirit, because humans get in the way of the story sometimes and even our best attempts to share it can muck it up.  

This is important set up this week because in our efforts to break the text of Mark apart to make it easier to manage and read, we did something wrong.   We erased the widow’s story. We cannot separate the story of the widow’s mite from the stones of the temple being decimated. They go together and putting the chapter 8 beginning where it is, we erase the story of the widow as though it has nothing to do with the temple or Jesus declaration of it’s destruction.  

Last week we pointed out the exploitation of the widow and the poor.  It should not have happened and as usual, the disciples don’t hear Jesus the first time.  I wonder if they even took the time to pity the woman, to correct the situation at all. I doubt it.  Because here they are, healthy men with access to money, education, and more, leaving the temple and one of the disciples, comments on the amazing grandeur of the temple.  The temple which Jesus had just pointed out was built through the corruption and exploitation of the poor. Sure, a gorgeous place everyone wants to be- but at what cost? The cost of leaving the poor who have nothing to offer outside? The women who are bleeding, the eunuch, the sick, all unwelcome? What kind of place is this that is built on the backs of the unwelcome and silenced voices?  What kind of place is this that is built to keep the ones who most need help, comfort, and access to hope out? Apparently the temple that awes the ones who have access and are not kept out, who can easily be there, and enjoy its wonder and beauty.

And Jesus has good news for the widow.  This temple is going down. The places and systems built by human greed and selfishness will be decimated.  The work of the wealthy, educated, privileged few will be undone- every single aspect of it; The systems that expected the widow to give all she had, but not the wealthy to do so; the systems that kept out the precious children of God who are in need, who live in fear of being welcomed or even allowed to be seen will be torn apart.  The good news to the widow is that this pain we are in, the pain she suffers of hunger and fear is only the beginning of the process that will give new life and hope to the world.

I spent this past week in El Paso, Juarez, and Anapra.  I saw the systems in place that keep the poor in poverty, the sick in illness, the hopeless despairing.  I heard stories of those seeking entrance to a place of hope and health, but they were too poor to get in.  They had the wrong skin color, were born of the wrong place, were like a carpenter’s son and deemed worthless, because what good can come from Honduras, or Guatemala, or Nazareth. I saw tears over separated families, fleeing violence and starvation, who follow the rules and must wait over 20 years to be “next” in line because their country of origin is “unwanted.” I heard of young people held in cells with no room to lay down for days on end because they applied for asylum as they ran for their life. And I heard from agents who are desperate to make sense of this in their heads as they cage up people whose only crimes are existence and desire to live.

Imagine the widow asking for help of the temple leaders and in response, being jailed to “wait” for their answer.  It is not just our country doing this, not just a caravan now, or a city of people waiting their 20 years- but entire nations of people starving, hoping, and wishing for more- for a chance to just live, let alone thrive.  Entire nations are the systems of oppression- the ones who buy cheap clothes made in sweatshops, drink coffee harvested in slave conditions, shoot because of skin color or who someone loves, and eats out of season fruit grown in deforested areas, all in the name of protecting their “piece of the pie” rather than finding a way to share it.  

These are the systems that will be torn apart in the end times, that are huge, and seemingly impossible to tear apart.

Nearly every one of us is an immigrant or birthed from one.  Each of us carry a history of fleeing for freedom and hope in our DNA, whether as pilgrims seeking freedom to worship without risk of death, from hunger and starvation from our fjords or potato famines, from slavery to free status, we are the ones who have been welcomed and given new hope and it is time to offer it in return. On my own, I don’t know how to fix our immigration and asylum systems, let alone those of every other nation with similar ones. I don’t know how to fix the deep and disturbing racism and classism of our nation, let alone any other.  I don’t know how to make it safe for people to just live and love in any place without being shot at in worship or while dancing. But Jesus does.  And he gives us good news.

This is the beginning birth pains. It is going to be horrific.  It is going to be a struggle. We will either be the ones feeling ripped in two in the birth, or we will stand by, helpless as another in front of us struggles.  It will be hard and horrible. Birthing pains are. But there is good news. We are invited to be midwives of the birthing. We are invited to be part of the help, the comfort, the assistance, the ones who bring the good news of Jesus Christ into the world. There is joy at the end of this- there is life and hope coming.  It will be work to get there. It will be hard, humanity will cry out in pain and the Holy Spirit will be our comfort, our deepest joy in the midst of pain.

We are invited into this labor, my siblings in Christ. We are invited to comfort the afflicted, to care for the poor, the hungry, the sick.  We are invited to give thanks and rejoice by sharing the comfort we have been granted. In Jesus Christ, we have been granted both the savior who will topple the dividing and life- sucking systems and who will give us breath, light, and joy as we labor with him.  It is our good news, to be the ones who look to the widow and put her coins back in her hand ten-fold, who invite her into the temple to worship, and then home with us to eat as part of our family- born anew in our baptismal promise.

Welcome to labor, the end is coming and we shall know true joy, true comfort, true salvation in our saviour, Jesus Christ.

 

Some Gave All- and they shouldn’t have to…. (Nov 11 sermon Pentecost 25B)

November 11, 2018                   Hope Lutheran Church               Riverside, CA

Mark 12:38-44

Welcome to the time of year in most churches when we talk at the table about impolite things, like  caring for the immigrant, feeding the poor, or welcoming the stranger, also know politely as politics, or money and time commitment, also known as Stewardship. Welcome to a Stewardship Sunday- which is about all of the gifts God gives us and how we manage them- except it often feels a little dirty because for a few weeks a year,  we really mostly mean money and then we use a pretty word like stewardship to dress it up. It is a weird thing and I want to name it. It is our reality, that once a year we need to talk about the things that make our spaces and ministry real and relevant in the world- and money is the currency upon which we are built. While it works in other places which we lift up through ELCA Good Gifts, here in Riverside, we simply cannot pay the electric bill with chickens.  

All around the nation, pastors are deciding whether to climb the ant hill and preach openly and honestly about an area many don’t want us to speak about in church. Our own council is torn on me speaking about this topic.   While it may seem uncomfortable to hear a sermon on money, just as it does about politics, the reality is, as a preacher, I follow Jesus footsteps and preach on what he preached and teaching what he taught, (I hope). Every aspect of our lives matters to God and Jesus gave us lessons on all of them, including and sometimes especially, the dangerously saucy topics of sex, politics, and money. Here is that sermon in one sentence and then I am reclaiming the rest of my time to speak on bigger matters by leaving the money talk to the finance people of our congregation.  Here it is: ready? Shortest sermon on money:
You can’t take it with you- so how will you make a change for better in the world?  Amen.

I want to talk about what we are doing with our stewardship of our lives and the lives of those around us.  We just read of a widowed, resourceless woman who had nothing left to give while the religious leaders who left her in that poverty around her had plenty.    If you want to connect my sermons with money- you do that or don’t. This passage is about human stewardship. Human life is the most precious gift we are given outside of salvation from sin.  This passage is not about Jesus honoring a woman for giving her last item of value for the temple. It is about the religious leaders who left her to be impoverished and hungry. It is about the people of her community who did not surround her after her husband’s death, taking her in and caring for her when she could not care for herself.  It is about a woman who is on the brink of death and starvation and the ones around her asking her to give up the coin which could keep her alive a little longer- it is about their failure to see and steward the most precious gift: life.

This passage riles up a lot of people who work with the hungry and poor.  We get angry because there was a treasury box, likely overflowing, and wealthy people around her in rich clothes with full stomachs.  They should have told her to keep her money. They should have opened up the box, taken out coins, bought her food, and given her credits among the sellers so that she would not be without.  They should have taken her into their own homes, adopting her to be one of their family and providing for her. This passage is not about how being faithful is about giving your last coin and dying a hungry, purposeless death. This passage is about the inherent value she brings that no one but Jesus saw.  It is about realizing every one of us have something of great value to offer to the world in who we are and our natural gifts.

Joanne had just gotten a divorce, was on government aid, and could barely afford to feed her baby in 1994.  She thought she had nothing to offer the world. But she had a typewriter and a story to tell. She was so poor that after typing out the draft, she couldn’t afford to copy it, so she typed out each 90,000 word copy she sent to publishers. It was rejected dozens of times.  The pharisees of the publishing world denied her offering. Finally Bloomsbury, a small London publisher, gave it a second chance after the CEO’s eight year-old daughter fell in love with it as would millions of children and adults around the world. That manuscript became a best seller, and a whole generation of young people do not know the world without Harry Potter  by J.K. Rowling.
She had a gift.  She had an offering that did not cost her to share- but made the world a better place. When our guest chefs craft a meal, they do it with ease and joy just as she wrote with ease and joy.  It is not hard for them to cook, they love it. It is their gift- it comes naturally and without leaving them empty at the end.  Our stained glass, a gift from members of the congregation is of great value because most of us could not produce such a gift. It is not ours to give.  And neither was that talent the widow put in the basket. That coin was hers to keep and use to sustain her life. She had something else of value to give- her life, her presence, her experience, her smile.  Stewardship is not as much about giving what we have no way of replenishing, but about giving from the endless well of who and whose we are. If you have money, yeah, give that. But if you have time, if you have talent, if you have patience, or a smile, give those.  Because in all honesty, a smile goes a long way in the aching world.

Yesterday I spent the whole day in Los Angeles, caring for evacuees.  We don’t ask them for more when so much has already been taken from them.

We.

Give.

To.

Them.

A smile goes a really long way.  A bottle of water donated goes a long way.  Caring for others in a moment of crisis is priceless, but so is just seeing them in the first place.  God gave us each other first. God said it is not good for a human to be alone- and made a mate. We are meant to see each other first. To care for each other- to minister to the poor, the lonely, the hurting, and hungry; looking in their eyes and seeing them as we wrap them in love, in blankets, in warm food, and sharing a moment of time to express wordlessly that they matter.  That is what we do as followers of Christ. We steward the gifts that God has given us- to care for the world- not asking or expecting the ones without to give up their last chance at life, but instead to offer faith, love, and hope.

Sometimes that means we do it here at our Hope Campus and office. Sometimes it is done at Pathways, or the riverbed, or a hospital room, or your own living room.  The point is, our ministry is more than what we do on Sunday mornings, because this is time to worship God, give thanks, and be nourished to go out and care for the world with our gifts. What is it that you find you can replenish easily? That is your gift.  How do you manage it? That is stewardship. What do the ones around you offer you? Does it cost them their last ounce of strength, life, or finance? How can you help them to keep that which they cannot replenish and support them? That is stewardship. How can we give back the widow’s mite and offer her more, a family, a meal, a home, a promise of life?  That is stewardship of human life and that is the point of this lesson today.

Jesus isn’t telling us to give up what we have no way to replenish- even in giving up our life for Christ, we gain a new one. He isn’t lifting up the widow’s poverty as admirable.  He is admonishing those who let it happen and reminding us that seeing each other in this world matters. Today is the 100th remembrance of Armistice Day- the end of the War to End All Wars.  Millions died in service. millions more served and came home wounded mentally or physically. They didn’t have to give like that if we had valued life and each other in the world first. Some gave all, but they didn’t give their lives up to die, they game them up to live- to live in peace, to live in joy, to live for every life, for every precious human created by God.  We honor their lives, the life of every Veteran the world over, because every life, every smile, every tear, every one of us matters. And some shouldn’t have to give all when we can prevent it. That is ministry. That is stewardship That is following Jesus Christ, our saviour, our teacher, our redeemer, our gift who keeps on giving and renewing us day in and out.

 

The Honeymoon is Over… Happy Anniversary. Reformation Sunday 2018

Reformation 2018  ~    Hope Lutheran Church  ~  Riverside, CA

Well, the honeymoon is over.  A year ago we made a promise. A year ago I stood before Bishop Andy Taylor and spoke words of commitment and hope, of service and accountability.  I waited 13 years of school and finding a call to speak those words. I was able to speak them because you, people of Hope, saw my call from God and affirmed it by asking me to be your pastor.  You were part of that promise.

We made promises like a marital couple: to uphold and support, to serve and honor, to see one another as people, as valuable, as part of God’s kingdom, to never to diminish or to erase each other, but to name the value of our individual gifts in the whole body together.

In the past year we have learned about each other.  You learned I can talk up a storm when I am nervous.  I learned you aren’t used to a pastor having you over to their house.  I learned about your passion for doing things well. You learned I like to paint, walls, canvas, nails, anything.  We learned to communicate with each other, to speak our hurt and our truth. I cried. You cried. And we still didn’t remember to get more tissues for the pews.  

And we need the tissues.  Because life has been as full of joy as sorrow this past year.  We have lost amazing people, and God gained them at the eternal table.  And we gained new people and even a baby. Precious new faces and stories who also bring tears of joy to our eyes in laughter and joy.  And even more will make promises today- reminding us of the joy of commitment and community.

We made promises and sometimes we broke them.  We are human and we make mistakes. But we made promises to each other so we stayed and we prayed and we kept working on it because it is rare that good happens instantly, it takes time, and as our master gardeners will attest to, sometimes many seasons to produce.  

As we have grown close and more confident with each other, learning each other’s moves and language, we have been strengthened.  We have been made new, reformed for work together, partnered to bring our passion and love to the community as a team, rather than individuals because God called us into relationship.  A congregation and pastor being made new for God’s good purpose. It has been beautiful and hard and oh so good. New relationships are like that though.

It is time to open the doors of the honeymoon suite and the doors of the church and to pour out into the community to share the glorious generosity of love and hope that we have found among each other.  Our neighbors need us. They are homeless and hungry. Our neighbors are afraid- they face racism and sexism and fear of being erased because they don’t match a binary construct. Our neighbors are hurting- their fellow congregations are being gunned down in cold blood as they celebrate a new baby!  Our neighbors are lonely-Sitting in houses without a soul to talk to.


Our promises to each other did not end at the edge of our property or the end of worship each Sunday.  They began that day. Like God’s love, a strength and refuge, our promises are the strength and refuge that our neighbors need us to share.  They need our love, our commitment, our passion, and our fellowship. They need to know we see them- that they don’t have to look like us or even believe like us.  God made them, too and they are not meant to be alone.

Our Gospel today leads the way to our new reformation- an act of always being made new, of always leaning into our imperfection and owning it, naming it, and learning to do better.  We have these gorgeous baptismal waters that remind us of our daily baptism, that we are always being made new in Christ and it eases our discomfort as we face change together.

We don’t have to do this alone, in fact, we are equipped to do it with Christ.  Every healing is a community job. In today’s gospel, the community was Bartimaeus, jesus, and the crowd following Jesus.   Jesus and Bartimaeus participated and they did so against the popular opinion of the crowd- no one wanted them together.  The crowd didn’t want to share Jesus and they didn’t want to let Bartimaeus in. The crowd didn’t want Bartimaeus healed, and they didn’t want Jesus to take the time with him. They chose to push a neighbor out because he was hard to reconcile with their needs and wants.  He didn’t fit the standard they set. Jesus saw him and knew the standard was being human. So he called Bartimaeus into relationship- healing him and becoming part of his story.  

Our neighbors are called into relationship. The ones who don’t believe like us, look like us, identify like us, even speak like us.  It is our turn to issue a call to them, to call them into love and healing, to hope and renewal and to the comfort of being reminded we are all precious and worthy of life.  Our relationship is off to a great start- and like any good partnership- we have to keep being made new to keep things healthy and fresh.

We made promises.  We have gained this new relationship.  Now it is time to turn away from the honeymoon suite and go out with joy into our community to invite others into our promise, to share the good news, to share the promise of always being made new, and to share the promise of Christ.  

Happy Anniversary, People of Hope.