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.  

 

Third Time’s a Charm Pentecost 22B

Pentecost 22B     October 21, 2018

Hope Lutheran Church~~~~Riverside CA

Mark 10:35-45

They say “third time’s a charm.”  And yet, here we are with James and John and they don’t get it again.  Our Gospel today begins with two of the church’s future saints treating the Son of Humanity like he was a holy ticket scalper.

Am I the only one who reads this with different voices or attitudes to see how it plays out?  Do you hear the patient 2nd grade teacher voice from Jesus or do you hear the exasperated parent of a teenager? What about the curious professor eager to dismantle the eager student’s ironic optimism?

In the Princess Bride movie, now considered a cult classic, the disciples remind me of the character Vizzini, who keeps shouting, “Inconceivable!”  Yet, the idea isn’t inconceivable, they just don’t get it. Their minds don’t think that way at all. And I keep waiting for Jesus to say, “You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.”  The disciples keep asking for glory, for power, for position, for recognition and they completely miss that the only glory will be in the glorious deaths they will die in service. They miss that this is not about lifting a single person up to glory, but about lifting humanity out of the mud.

The idea of serving is just not what they think it is, and neither is the idea of afterlife.  In fact, this trying to secure the right or left chair is the complete opposite of their purpose.  They don’t see it and they have no clue the cost for what they ask. Many scholars explore whom the two will be- many argue that one will be the sinner on the cross who died next to Jesus, seeking forgiveness in his last hours of torture.  I don’t think the disciples meant that for themselves. It is just inconceivable to them.

There is a new sitcom, “The Good Place” and it is filled with fantastic fun making of religion while also discussing the idea of eternal life.  In the sitcom, the characters are in the bad place, but they are told they are in the good place. They figure out that they aren’t because they realize they are miserable and are being tortured by the mundane things of life that irritated them most.

The show goes on to explore philosophical girding’s in the stead of religion and plays out the classic philosophers fundamentals for being a good or bad person.  It boils down to one issue though: there is no formula for being good and there is no way to intentionally earn getting into the good place. You just have to be a good person- not for the sake of getting in, but because we are supposed to be good to one another.

We aren’t supposed to idealize the suffering servant of Job 38 or Isaiah 53.  That is like choosing to live a Christian life because we want to cover all our bases. It doesn’t work to choose to be a martyr in order to secure a space.  We can’t earn this because it isn’t a test where we get graded on the other side. We don’t get more points for being kinder or doing the right thing because God is up in the sky checking off a list. And there is no guarantee that what eternity looks like will be golden streets and angel wings.  What if eternity looks like eternal service? Then what? What are we signing on for? What cup are we drinking with Jesus?

A character in the Good Place named Chidi makes the point clear: “If this isn’t a test then it’s something way worse: A choice!  That we have to MAKE!”

When we choose to follow Christ it is regardless of what the outcome will look like. It isn’t about power or prestige or earning an eternal day off.  Chidi posits the best response to this quandary we face: “So why do it then? Why choose to be good everyday, if there is no guaranteed reward we can count on now or in the afterlife? I argue that we choose to be good because of our bonds with other people and our innate desire to treat them with dignity. Simply put, we are not in this alone. “

Christ is asking the disciples to give up the idea of glory and power forever; to be servants to humanity and God forever.  He is asking them to be crushed and wounded and afflicted with him when he offers them a chance to follow him. He never promises them glory and power only that he will be with them til the end of days. 

Maybe that is all we can ask for and maybe that is all we really need.  Maybe we spend our days trying to create things and relationships around us so we don’t feel so alone.  Maybe we are James and John and the other 10, vying for security and a place at the table because no one wants to be left out.  No one wants to be alone.

The inconceivable part of this is that we aren’t alone. We never were alone.  But we just couldn’t conceive of that. So God sent the son, Jesus to show us, to tell us, to be with us to prove we are not alone.  To redeem us and remind us that we are not relegated to the bad place. So why choose to do good, to be good? Not to earn it, because it is freely given, but in response.  Because God is that good and we are not alone. God is with us and we can celebrate this gift of life and accompaniment by living in a way that lets others know they are not alone either.

You don’t have to choose to feed the poor or clothe the naked for Jesus sake.  But when you choose to live a life responsive to God’s gift by seeing others and letting them know they are not alone either, you will inevitably find yourself feeding a hungry and dirty soul.  This is the high priest’s calling which we all can answer.

The choice is not to live a good life or be good.  It is to offer ourselves up and simply thank God for being so generous and gracious and never leaving us alone.

 

From the Pastor’s Pen November ’18

Happy 502nd Anniversary, reforming church.  What a good and blessed thing it is to be given a chance to be made new.  I for one am grateful every day that I am not stuck as the same person I was the day before.  The old me has a chance to die every evening, a new me arises like Lazarus and lives with new intention, awareness, and purpose.
This gladness is a healthy balance when I consider and often become burdened with awareness of my mistakes.  Each day I am able to name my failures and weaknesses and then in my baptismal promise, wash them away with promises of life in Christ.
This is especially important this month.  I feel like there is a growing awareness of worldly social needs, a fear in our nation of sharing our generous resources and freedom, and grief over that which was taken away in greed or anger.  Lives lost to gunmen in Kentucky and Pennsylvania remind me that we have a lot of work to do to lessen hatred and violence in this world.  A speaker last night at the Interfaith Service of Healing at Congregation Emanu-El in Redlands reminded me though, “bullets can’t pierce love.  Love wins.”

Our nation grew because people were afraid and seeking safety.  They were leaving their lands in droves because their very lives were in danger.  They were starving, persecuted for faith, or even for whom they loved.  They sought refuge and found it here.  Finally, a safe place to worship and live.  Only now, we see even the most sacred places violated by anger and in fear we close our doors to the refugee whose shoes we wore only a generation or two ago. Martin Luther himself fueled hatred of many, but most especially our Jewish siblings.  I have to acknowledge that fear and hatred do not come from God.   I don’t know how to help love win, but I will keep loving my neighbor because Christ made it easier for me by showing me how. I will name the wrong among even the most faithful leaders, and I will keep welcoming the stranger in the name of Christ and trust the Holy Spirit will bring love’s win to fruition.
When I look ahead to Thanksgiving I am aware again of that which was stolen in greed generations before.  Almost a mirror of our current tragedies, a dehumanization of the other lead to death.  Native American lives were cut short to gain land and resources by European colonizers who had the audacity to claim they “discovered land” which was already inhabited.  It is hard to acknowledge that the sweet puritan pilgrim stories were not as I was taught and that I should not give thanks for stolen prosperity. My so called “pure” blood lines are not a thing of beauty, but a reminder of shameful acts. I could wallow in despair or deny this, but  I am reminded by another wise voice, that we are in a time of moral crisis and naming our history and corporate Eurocentric sin is vital to healing and moving forward.  My native siblings do not want me gone.  They do want me to acknowledge they do and did exist, that a trespass was made, and to seek forgiveness.  I don’t like it, but the reality is, I benefit from their loss, and they still pay for my ancestors trespass.  I owe them at least acknowledging the truth.  On truth, the foundation of Christian faith, we can build new relationships and go forward in love and honesty.

Each of these ideas is rooted in two concepts: community and forgiveness.  We are called into community, to be and see one another.  To love and be loved.  To mess up, ask forgiveness, and give it in return.  These require being made new, being RE- formed into a better person in Christ:  being more kind, more loving, more honest each day.  They are hard, we cannot do them alone, and Christ is with us renewing and reforming us every moment in his promises.

Thank God we are a reforming people.  Thank God we have a new chance all the time to begin again.  I cannot give thanks for the pain, but I can give thanks for the new chances and the community that forms in the healing.  May your Thanksgiving be an honest one. May it be one of reforming into a new person in Christ.  May it be full of thanks for love of God who rescues and redeems us, reforming us into a new eternal kingdom.

We can’t do it

Pentecost 21B           October 14, 2018

Hope Lutheran Church         Riverside, CA

Mark 10:17-31

Mark is getting hard.  The lessons the past few weeks are leading us to the cross and in all honesty, they are uncomfortable.  I could try to make these feel less painful, but I would be failing in my job. My job is to preach truth and in an age old saying, “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”  If you are comfortable in your faith this morning, I hope you are ready to not like my sermon. If you are struggling, if you are full of pain and doubt or you just think you probably are not the best Christian and want to do better this week, then this sermon may just be a balm and buoy.  Either way. It isn’t me, or how I preach it, it is the word of Mark and how he points to Jesus in this story.

It begins with the timeless and  classic question: Teacher, what must I do to have eternal life?  

And the story ends with the man walking away in grief over the answer.  

We will never have an answer that we can achieve.  The young man had great wealth and it was beyond his person to sell it all- he just didn’t have the capacity. Some don’t have the capacity to serve the poor.  Some don’t have the capacity to honor the sabbath. It doesn’t matter whether we struggle on Sunday mornings or get judgmental over how a beggar will use the money we give them.  We all face an obstacle of not being able to follow the rules enough to earn eternal life. Not one of us. We can’t do it. We can’t earn it, work for it, believe it, pray for it, or buy it.  And lest you are the person in the pew saying to yourself that you are the exception, “I have faith, I claim Jesus, I keep the commandments AND I serve the poor.” I am going to call you out. If it were possible for you to keep the laws enough to gain eternal life, then we don’t need Jesus.  If you are the one who is good to go because of the good life you have lived, then Jesus wasted his time and his followers are fools.

You can’t do it and neither can I.  It just isn’t possible- any more than it is possible to have a camel pass through the eye of a needle.  It cannot be done.

Maybe you are one who has heard we can but it is really hard. Maybe you heard the eye of the needle was a gate through which camels could barely pass unless they were unloaded and crawled through on their knees; that we too must unburden ourselves and drop to our knees in prayer.  I hate to break it to you but that is false. It was made up in the middle ages as a way to make sense of this passage, to offer a way to earn your way to heaven. It was an effort to make it possible to buy your way into eternal life- yet another painful lie from the church to control.  It was a story which became a tool of abuse against the poor, the hungry, and even the hurting. The problem is, it still depends on us to earn it. And we can’t.

We can’t earn salvation.  We can’t give enough away, we can’t pray enough hours or for the right things.  We are stuck in sin. That is the law and no human is exempt or above it. As Martin Luther discovered in his monastic studies, we are saved Sola Gratia (grace alone); sola fide (faith alone); solo Christo (Christ alone) – In grace alone, by faith alone, in Christ alone.

No wonder the young man walked away in despair.  He understood what Jesus was saying, “there is nothing YOU can do to have eternal salvation.”  

If the young man had stayed, if he had owned his in-ability and leaned into the discomfort of knowing he can’t be good enough he might have asked the next question:

“Is there no way to have eternal life?”  

And Jesus would have answered as he does in other places:  “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Christ is the grace, the faith and the answer.

God knew we couldn’t do enough.  The children of Israel tried for 40 years in the desert and still kept messing up.  The most ideal of our abrahamic mothers and fathers kept messing up. The most beloved kings set on the throne by God, messed up.  No one could do it. They couldn’t keep the law and God had made it pretty simple. 10 Simple Rules and no one could keep them.

This is the beauty of our God.  A God who changes God’s own mind (because God can do that!), sets a new standard, and gives us life when we least deserve it.  Enter Jesus. The master(’s) plan. The plan who frees us from our own inability and relies solely on the absolute sovereign divinity of God alone.  The one who shifts the question away from what we can do and instead answers who can save us.

The only thing required of us is to receive.  God is offering us gift of presence, gift of accompaniment, gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.  God is gift, not a contract or equation. We can’t keep up our end of the bargain, but God can. We can’t reason or work our way out of sin, but God can. We can’t find our own way, but God did. We won’t succeed, but God will. With God, through Jesus, we have our way through the eye of the needle because with God all things are possible.  

Life may present us with difficult circumstances and it may feel like God is far away. Evil may seem to have a hold on our fate or daily lives as in Job, but God doesn’t let go.  God doesn’t go away. God remains and is steadfast in faithfulness to us. God restores us and renews us, wallowing with us in our sorrow and pain and lifting us back up once more, promising us hope for eternity.  

We just have to stop fighting God in action.  We need to receive what is offered. And for the days that recieving is hard, we can always pray, Holy Spirit, make me willing to be made willing.

“Only when we stop avoiding discomfort and allow ourselves to be completely vulnerable and exposed do we experience true freedom.”

When we stop thinking it is something we do, believe, or offer, when we recognize our own pitiable circumstance of soul, when we lean into our inability to save ourselves and own the discomfort of acknowledging our circumstance, we become able to see the answer, the gift, the light.  Christ is the freedom who lifts us up from the pit and mire, who loves us still, saves us still, redeems us still. If we let him.

The young man was offered a chance to follow Christ, to see what it means to let Christ be in his daily life, teaching, leading, and saving him.   Christ offered him the chance to see what radical love, generosity, and hospitality can do to change the world. He walked away because he couldn’t let the control go.  Christ is before you now and offering. What will you say?

I for one hope you will say, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Solo Christo.

 

You don’t have to be the greatest. You just have to be you.

Pentectost 18 B- September 23, 2018

Hope Lutheran Church-Riverside CA

 

There is a new movie on Netflix, “Nappily Ever After.” It is the story of a woman of color and her struggle with personal identity. Because her hair was typical of her ethnicity, it was full of curl and kink, on it’s own, wild and wonderful. But she grew up in a world where she needed to conform to beauty standards that don’t embrace ethnic hair and she needed to straighten out the glorious curls to straight soft ones. I don’t want to give too much away, but suffice it to say, there was a hair debacle, and she decided she couldn’t spend life trying to be so perfect to the world, that maybe the hair God gave her was what she needed to embrace and that is when the story really begins and she finds her joy.

 

It got me thinking of today’s gospel message in Mark and how as children we already know who we are. We already know we have the world’s greatest Dad or the kindest mom. We already know we have the best baby brother (or maybe worst, I mean, kids also know when they are pushed out of the limelight). We already know we look fantastic in our lime green shoes and bright orange sweater. We know we love big gentle dinosaurs and loving our babies and not broccoli or baths. We know we are great on the monkey bars and a little afraid of baseballs, but thrilled to try to hit them with a bat. We know our bodies are amazing and that band-aids fix everything. We know we are good at learning and our brains are soaking up the world.

 

When the world gets to us, we aren’t allowed to wear bright yellow galoshes and golfing hats to church anymore. We get told we can’t wear pig tails at 45 let alone in the pulpit, even though we love how it makes us remember life is too short not to have fun and remember our youth. We get told we can’t skip in the parking lot, to sit up straight, don’t pick, don’t fidget, and eat your Wheaties. We get kudos for conforming and time out for being our weird and wonderful self.

 

And then comes Jesus. Who already knows that the world has lied to us and taught us to value greatness over authenticity. In our Gospel for today he has told the disciples (for the third time) he is going to die and they just don’t get it . They are part of a world that values greatness, not sacrifice; world that is taken by power, not gentleness. They cannot imagine what he is telling them because they traded imagination for conformity and trust for power.

So Jesus pulls a child into the equation, gently putting the child in the midst of them, setting the trusting one on his knee as a sign of affection and value. And then tells them they have to be like this child to get in line for his kingdom.

Debie Thomas is with the Episcopal Church in Palo Alto and wrote about this passage saying that her years as a children’s minister have helped her understand what it is to be childlike the way Jesus is expressing. Well-meaning people suggest that Jesus likens children to God because children are so purely good, or unselfish, or accepting, or meek. Well, I don’t know children like that; the ones I know are far more interesting. They’re feisty, clever, quick, fierce, generous, selfish, naughty, obedient, curious, bored, quiet, loud, challenging, funny, surprising, solemn, and exhausting. I think Jesus knew as much when he described children as trustworthy representations of God.”

She goes on to share 4 ways children teach us to follow God: imagination, risking hard questions, trust, and what divine power looks like.  I took her themes and ran with them- making them my own in many ways, so really encourage you to read her blog on this topic as well.

Children are able to imagine God in such unlimited ways. They are able to see the world through eyes of imagination and they see God that way too. God is limitless. We cannot imagine God enough. And as adults, we have forgotten to imagine. It is the reason Peter Pan is such a hit. We forget to imagine. And God is so amazingly big and able to do so much that we lose out on understanding God when we forget to imagine. Let your preconceived notions of who God is and how God works in our world go. Because God is not limited our understanding. God is strange and wonderful and bigger than anything. Embrace your imagination again and let God be big enough to be the answer to all the questions, even if it doesn’t add up in your adult reasoning.

They also risk the hard questions. They aren’t afraid to notice when someone looks different or ask why something is blue. They keep on asking until they have an answer that works for them. They ask if they can have something not with greed, but with hope. They ask strangers for help and to be new friends. They ask why loved ones die, why some kitties are boys or girls and why we can’t stay and play instead of going to work. They ask with their hearts open and their trust on display. Just as we should with God.

And wow, do they trust. They trust that there is always enough. They trust that God is enough and that they are enough already in God’s eyes. They have a trust in God that is so much bigger than most adults because they have not held back part of their hearts from the world yet. Children ask for the whole world because they trust the whole world is still open to them. And so is God’s kingdom. God has given us the whole world and we need to love on the gift God has given us; take it everywhere we can, and show it to anyone who will look and see.

Finally, children show us what divine power looks like. It doesn’t look like the strongest or best, the first or the smartest. It looks like someone who gives up all the power to be the lowest. Because God did that for us in coming to be like us. God, in all God’s limitless power, consented to be small and low, vulnerable, and of no notice. So if we want to see God, we need to look at our children who are subject to our adult rules and limitations. Children whose bodies are used or abandoned at borders and alleyways. Who are sold for trafficking, and dying because we want more gun freedom than safety locks that protect them. Children who have no access or legal rights or power and trust us adults implicitly for healthcare, education, and even the meal on their plate.

Children rely on others fully to meet their needs in their vulnerability, and still keep their hearts open, their imaginations on fire and their trust in God boundless. They are not in charge. They are not in control. They cannot make one thing happen. But in them, in their small bodies and wide eyes that see the world as it REALLY is, we can see God.

Jesus is reminding us that we will not come to the kingdom with power and swords, with conformity and reasoning, but by giving up our control and power and leaning fully into our imagination, trust, and knowing who and whose we are. You don’t have to be perfect. You can wear pigtails to preach and imagine you are even wiser and more lovely for it. You can wear your bright yellow galoshes to church with your golfing hat. And you can trust in God . With all your heart. You can let go of what the world taught you, and trust that God gave you just what you needed the moment you were created- a love and knowledge that you are precious, beautiful, beloved and desired by God just as you are. You don’t have to be perfect. You just have to be you and let God do the rest.

 

Most weeks my sermon is mine, with obvious influence from 2, 000 years of other writers and theologians. But this week, I need to give some serious credit to another theologian and family ministry director, Debie Thomas of St Marks Episcopal Church in Palo Alto. Her essay on the gospel for today was so spot on, I could not avoid sharing it. It was too full of wisdom to deny. Read her essay here: https://www.journeywithjesus.net/essays/1948-welcome-the-child or learn more about her ministry here:

https://saint-marks.com/staff/debie-thomas/

A Responsive God

Pentecost 16B- Hope Lutheran Church- Riverside, CA- Sept 9, 2018

Mark 7: 24-37

I don’t have a moving story this morning. The gospel today IS the story. It has all the elements of the best sermon illustrations- discomfort, joy, hope, emotion and ah-ha moments. I am excited by this passage. It can be hard to imagine Jesus as human at times. We often sanitize the human side of him, opting for the divine aspect of God rather than the one who wore skin and sweat, acne and morning breath. For some, it may even feel blasphemous for us to consider Christ as ever anything other than perfect and yet he was fully human which meant a fully imperfect body.

It isn’t a sin to have acne. It isn’t a sin to have a pockmark left after acne resolves. And yet, we must admit, it is imperfection. It is a sign of tissue that shows when trauma has been done and scars up after the infection subsides. And humanity bears scars.   We bear scars of racism, classism, and even gender exclusion when we diminish each other for the body we are born with, the circumstance we were raised in, or how we were socialized.

Jesus had this body. He wore flesh just like we do and felt the limitations of flesh just like we do. As Lutherans we declare Jesus Christ fully human and fully God. But we cannot claim his full humanity in one breath and deny it in the next. He was a human child who surely was told “no” so that he could learn. He was a teenager who did things that make mother’s frown and give stink eye; all things that are a process of humanity. He was socialized to believe certain things just like we are.  And it is okay if this thought process makes you uncomfortable. It is supposed to be uncomfortable to imagine God experiencing the ugliest parts of humanity up close and personal, not as an observer, but as a participant.   Our God is amazing and flexible beyond our comprehension and trying to comprehend God as perfectly divine and also divinely human is a struggle for even seasoned theologians.

It is important to grasp onto the concept though in order to see a beautiful message of hope and promise found in our scripture today. The deaf man and syrophoenician woman’s daughter also had these imperfect fleshy bodies and the ones around them craved wholeness for them. So they are begging Jesus for hope and healing. And Jesus is still human even as he is healing in a divine capacity.

Jesus’ very humanity is showing in this text. Here we see Jesus be corrected, learn, change, and bless in response. Lessons we desperately need to not only hear but since humans learn in so many ways, we need to see Jesus being fully human and learning from others. And here, he learns from a woman. Not just any woman though. A woman who has absolutely no social, legal, or religious authority to even look at him, let alone speak to him. And yet she does. She takes a chance on hope and promise because she already understands there is something incredibly divine about this man.

And what mother would not do anything to heal their child? What mother would not jump fences, dance on desks, and beg in the face of incredible odds to see their child healed? Not this one. She goes to Jesus even though he asks to be left alone. She goes to him even though she is a gentile. She goes to him and begs for her daughter to be delivered. And he denies her.

Some scholars argue that he is telling her she just has to wait until all the Jews have been healed. Except that Jesus has healed other gentiles at this point. They also argue the diminutive is sweet and kind calling the dogs puppies in the original language. But the fact is, puppies or dogs, neither have value. At meals and with guests, they are chased off with rocks. They are not the sweet companion pets we imagine them as today. They are a necessary nuisance that is barely tolerated and he attempts to chase her off by throwing rocks in a racial slur.   In his socialized human form, he dehumanizes her and all gentiles as well. He came for the children of Israel, not gentiles.  Not for you or me.  She does not have the necessary qualifications to get in, no passport, no id.  She was a necessary nuisance to be barely tolerated and chased away with rocks made of words.

Still other theologians argue he is testing her here. But to be honest, it is inconsistent for Jesus to respond to a pleading person by testing them further.  So when Jesus tells her that he isn’t responsible for her family right now, that his focus of nourishment and healing needs to be for the Jews, he simply sees through the scales of humanly socialized eyes  and to be honest, is fully within the scope and purpose of his incarnate expereience.  He didn’t come to save us all.  He came for the chosen ones, the children of Israel.  So no, he does not see her value. He is prioritizing others over her and her daughter because that is his purpose up to this point.

And this should scare us. It should make us uncomfortable because Jesus is living the darkest side of humanity in this moment. The parts we do not want to acknowledge any more than we want to acknowledge we built a nation on stolen land. It only leads to really hard work and fear of loss for us to consider Jesus really seeing us in our meanest state.

But this woman has nothing to lose and everything to gain by trying. She holds hope and faith tightly in her grip and declares her and her daughter’s value in that moment. And she boldly corrects him. She reminds him that even if consuming only the crumbs, she has a place at the table, a role in the kingdom of God, that she too was created in the womb by the master, the number of hairs on her head were counted before her creation, that she is fearfully and wonderfully made.

And this is the beautiful point. He listens and allows his socialized understanding of the world, his scales of human eyes to fall away and his purpose in it to be fundamentally changed in that moment As though healing a blind man, his scales fall from his eyes and he sees her through divine eyes, acknowledges her, and  recognizes her value in the snap of a moment- something most humans spend a lifetime doing, dismantling our socialized vision.  In that divine moment, he understands the scope of his purpose among us as so much bigger than we can begin to imagine. In the moment he acknowledges her claim to her place at the table, his whole purpose and mission has shifted and expanded to God like proportions and we were gathered in.

In that moment, he sees not just her brokenness and pleading, but even his own human brokenness through incarnate eyes. And this moment is the moment of your freedom. This is the beginning of redemption for us. This is the moment of hope and promise for all humanity because God sees the need of all of creation to be redeemed, not just the chosen ones.

We have a responsive God. One who hears us, who realizes our human limitations and then crafts every way possible for us to be in right relationship with God once more. We have a god who blesses us for claiming the place at the table that God promised to us. Not because we did anything to earn it but because God created us for that.   A God who will not condemn us or leave us wanting when we cry out, but instead a God who loves us and when we are scattered in our own darkness, will gather us in and bless us for  remembering and knowing we belong to God.

This passage is a beautiful broken moment of Jesus. Just like watching him be pierced and crucified, it hurts us. It is a mirror of OUR ugliness, our sin, our darkness. In this moment, Jesus reflects back humanity’s response to a broken woman. And she then reflects back to him that she is created in God’s image and worthy of his consideration. This dance, an engagement and entwining of humanity and divine is exquisite and prickly. And it is good. It is valuable. It is a struggle to witness and consider. We will be blessed in the struggle for naming our place, for claiming our purpose and value laid on us not by our own selves, actions, or faith,  but by our creator and in that very moment, our soon to be redeemer.

We do not need to be afraid to acknowledge the ugliness of this moment. The human limitations of this Gospel lesson are not about Jesus limitations, but about our human condition and a God who responds. My God listens and learns. My God grows to meet my limitations, because I cannot grow enough to reach God’s standard. God came into our darkness, entered into our sinful space and walked our broken world to redeem us. When we own our sin, own our incapacity to reach to God and cry out to the one who made us and promised to love us,  remembering that we were created for this, that Jesus would die on a cross for this, God will bless us.

 

 

Thanks to several theologians out there for a great conversation as I crafted this sermon!  Mandy Achterberg, D Mark Davis, Mark Stenberg, and David R. Henson (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson/2015/09/crumbs-jesus-and-the-ethnic-slur-lectionary-reflection-mark-724-37/)

 

The Little Places- Pentecost 10B

Focus of John 6:1-21

We just finished a week of Vacation Bible School. My very first as a pastor. It was wonderful and we all had a great time. And I am exhausted. I joked on social media that I would take Holy Week anytime over VBS. The level of intensity and energy needed is great in either one, but I think VBS wins because it is in summer, at the end of the day, and I am already worn out by the heat before we even began each evening. It was wonderful and it was exhausting. Some activities give us energy, some take it- and as wonderful and exciting as VBS was, as the days passed, even the children began to flag with energy.

We were all tired. In fact, I would say, my favorite part of each day was the end, when the children would lay here on the floor, sprawled out like puppies and we would talk about the day. We would share our stories of what mattered, what we learned, and hear about how God made a good creation meant to work together for everyone. It was a moment of respite, of stillness and quiet and peace. And then we had to get up and get moving again, to head home and get baths and pjs and bed. But for a moment we stopped. And in that moment we focused again on the one thing that refreshes and nourishes us: Jesus.

Life seems to go like that. Waves of energy and exhaustion. Moments of stopping and going. Sometimes the waves of life feel as though they are lifting us up and floating us along, in others it feels as though they are tormenting us and we cannot seem to catch our breath in between. Horatio Spafford knew this all too well. He was a successful businessman with a wife, Anna, and five children. Before long, the waves of life took their toll. Their young son died of pneumonia and in that same year, much of their business was lost in the great Chicago fire. A short time later Horatio decided to take the family to Europe- a chance to breathe and rest. He placed Anna and their daughters on the Ville du Harve and at last minute, he was delayed to tackle Chicago zoning issues during rebuilding. He planned to join them on a later ship.

Mid-voyage, the Ville du Harve collided with a powerful, iron-hulled Scottish ship, the Loch Earn and within 13 minutes, the Ville du Harve slipped beneath the dark waters of the Atlantic. Anna was spotted clinging to a piece of floating wreckage and was rescued, but her daughters were lost to the cold ocean depths. Once on land again, she wired her husband, “Saved alone, what shall I do?” Horatio booked passage on the next available ship. Midway the captain called to him and explained that they were now about the place the Ville du Harve went down. Wracked with grief, he began to write. Today, his words penned in the moments of great waves of life crashing in on him are some of our favorite hymn lyrics. “When peace like a river attendeth my way. When sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say it is well, it is well with my soul.”

~~~~~
In case you haven’t noticed yet, it is my tendency to pick up on the small pieces, the in between spaces of the lessons each week. To notice the gum under the counter, if you will, as the unattended and often unnoticed areas of our readings. We can all see and hear the big things happening in the gospel this morning. Making 5 loaves and 2 fish enough for 5,000 men and calming waves in the sea. I wonder though if you noticed the waves and the moments of calm, the moments that Jesus fills the gaps and eases the difficult moments? The small spaces where only God can fit and fill a need?

So did you notice that they only counted the men? No women or children? Yet they were present, too and they were hungry as well. They were used to not being noticed or of value. Except Jesus saw them and he valued them. He healed bleeding women and dying daughters as often as he healed men of social value. He taught the disciples to value the hearts and minds of little children because they are pure and worthy of notice. And when they were there on that hillside, hungry and lacking resources, Jesus was there. He fed them, not just with crumbs, but with plenty. He fed their stomachs and he fed their hearts and souls by seeing them as precious and worthy of being fed.

Later, when everyone gets caught up in fear of Rome and desire to be free, Jesus is there. Or rather, he leaves so that he can give them what they need- which is not another king to rule over them with power, but a Messiah who will deliver them from the powers of this world and grant them true life. This scene will play out several times before he finally dies, and is a significant part of our Holy week narrative. And there too, Christ sees what we need most. Even though he is welcomed with waving palms and cloak strewn streets, he understands we need deliverance from our fears, not a ruler over our bodies. And he chooses death on the cross to give us what we need most.

And again, in the boat, surrounded by swells and storms, in fear and crying out, Jesus is there. Once again, he fills a need. He speaks to the waves and calms them. He tells the disciples they are not alone, not to fear, and then delivers them to safety. Jesus is in the small spaces. He is in the moment that the people are tired of standing so he tells the disciples to have them sit. He is in the bread that suddenly becomes enough to feed around what scholars reckon to be about 18,000 people. He was with disciples who were trying to figure out how to feed all these people when Jesus commanded them to do so.

He was with Anna as she sent that horrific telegram and struggled to breath each moment, having lost all 5 of her children, 4 at once and with Horatio as his ship skimmed the surface of his daughter’s watery grave. And he is here with us in the movement of the Holy Spirit still. Christ is in the moments of our lives that are exhausting and good, and also exhausting and hard. He is here in the fun and joy of VBS and he is here in the moments of grief and anguish. He speaks to the waves of life, Peace, be still, and when the waves will not be calmed, but our hearts need soothing, he is balm to our hearts, reminding us that he is with us, in the small places.

I am grateful for a God who will go to the small spaces to fit in among the big things of life. Our God, who will make godself small and will suffer death and humiliation for me and my sin. Our God, Who sees your value and pays the priceless ransom for your soul. Our God, who comes to us in the small spaces in ways we cannot comprehend and fills us with just what we need when we need it.

The Bible never said God will not give you more than you can handle. But it does say that WITH God, we candle accomplish and handle anything. God comes to us, always, coming to us, with love and compassion, with mercy and justice, with hope and salvation to deliver us and nourish us for the exhausting moments of life, both good and bad. God is here. Among us now.

As you come to the table today, whether this is a moment of peace and restoration or a time of expended energy, ponder anew the wonder of our God who will make Godself as small as a baby to meet our needs. Who will bless the bread and make it enough for us. Who will gather us as one to nourish us as community together and who is the God of abundance in big and small ways in all things that truly matter: love, mercy and grace.