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.

Please, Sir, May I have some more?

There is someone in your life waiting for you to show them Jesus. They are too afraid to ask and they are starving spiritually.

5025126481_494d79d4ea1-750x499Sermon for Hope Lutheran  based on John 12: 20-33.

“We want to see Jesus.” It almost sounds like a poor orphan child from a Charles Dickens novel in my mind, “please sir, may I have some more?” In Dickens’ famous novel, Oliver Twist, an orphaned child is sent to an orphanage where he suffers from hunger and cold. When the gruel, which is cold oatmeal, runs out and he is hungry, we read the famous line, “please sir, may I have some more?”

It tugs at the toughest heart strings, this idea of a child hungry and cold. It’s why the images starving children of Africa, South America, and China were used for years for commercials to get folks to help, let alone used by more than one mom to get her kids to eat their peas and carrots.  And for the record, I still won’t eat peas no matter who is starving. They can have mine. I am all about sharing.

When we hear this plea, our hearts swell with desire to care for and provide what is desired, let alone needed. These Greeks, though grown men, are no different. They are spiritual children, orphans, who understand that there is something more and they are hungering for it. They believe they must ask for it to receive this soul nourishing encounter. And I wonder, have you ever had to ask for something you really needed and were afraid you might not be given? In the vulnerable moments, we know that even in the asking,we take a risk, we die a little. Just by asking. But these men, they knew they had to take the risk. They had to ask. They were starving for more spiritually.

There is someone in your life waiting for you to show them Jesus. They are too afraid to ask and they are starving spiritually. They are hungering to hear that they are not too broken for this gift. That they are not too depraved, too sinful, too far gone. They are starving to hear that they are precious, a gift, created by God exactly as God wanted them to be, down to the last precious hair on the head. Knit together in the womb by a loving God who wants deep and abiding relationship with THEM. They are yearning to hear that their choices have not taken them too far from God, that God is with them. But they are waiting for a personal introduction. Like the Greeks, they don’t understand this gift is already theirs, already has their name on it and already belongs to them for eternity.

Jesus explains to the disciples, “those who hate their life in this world will lose it.” And I wonder if that is part of what keeps people from letting Christ in. In that personal introduction that others are seeking, they need to hear that this life Christ speaks of hating is not the life we imagine. It is the one we have bought into. The one that says we have to get ahead of our neighbor and protect ourselves first. In the recent movie, The Black Panther, the nation of Wakanda is the wealthiest nation in the world, but only they know it. They have secrets to long life, nearly miraculous healing, space age technology that will knock your socks off. No one is poor, everyone has all they need. And they keep it a secret. They keep it a secret because it also comes with knowledge that can be misused. So in their misguided attempts to save the world from potential harm, they also hoard the answers to life. Children in other countries, like ours, grow up without education, skipping meals and watching their only caregivers die of disease that could be treated. It takes an entire movie, and horrible loss for the to finally realize the error of their ways.

Today, Christ tells us that if a single grain keeps to itself, it is just a dead grain. But if it dies to itself, if it offers itself up, it is broken open and life will spring forth. Sharing what Christ has done for you is the same process. Embracing vulnerability and letting people know your past that God has saved you from and even more importantly, the imperfection of your life today, like that you drop curse words like bird seed, is being broken open and offers up new life to those who are silently begging, Please sir, we want to see Jesus.

The life Jesus tells us to hate is a life of limitation and lonliness. The one he asks us to share and receive is one of unlimited spiritual wealth. He is telling the disciples and us that if you are going to live his way, it needs to be with your whole heart. Do it well. Life is too short to live half heartedly.

In week 5 of our Lenten focus on  our mission statement, we focus on the line that reads our mission is “To serve Human needs in our community.” It is paired up with a Lenten discipline this week of offering our bodies up to those around us. What might that look like for you? For me as a young mom, that might mean getting down on the ground and playing barbies or trucks or dinosaurs with my children. It might mean sitting patiently in a doctors office with a sick friend, or offering to keep company with an elderly shut in. It might mean making a meal for a frazzled parent, or sitting with my 18 year old and listening to him explain his gaming and the techniques he has mastered. It might mean taking a walk with your lonely neighbor or signing up to help make meals for the homeless. And it might mean sharing a story of your life that might make you cry and hurt or be ashamed to talk about, but might show the person listening the face of Jesus in your life now.

The Greeks implored Phillip, “Sir, we want to see Jesus.” We do not know if they ever got to see Jesus in person. But we do know within days he was lifted on a cross and died, so that the world might “see” his message of love and mercy. It isn’t the way of the world- it is a life that is so much more expansive and unlimited than we can imagine. It is a world where all are fed, all are loved, all are free, all are equal, and all are in relationship with God. He did not hate his life. He loved his life and everyone in it. But he lived a different kind of life, one where he offered his body up so that we too might have eternal life.
Which life will you choose to love today? The one that says there is not enough and goads us to hoard our wealth, freedom, and luck? Or one that generously shares radical hospitality through love, justice, and mercy? Jesus offers either to you. Choose carefully .

 

 

The Hero

Lent 2 b (lectionary cycle)

The hero isn’t who you think they are. Abraham, Peter, Billy Graham, t’ Chaka and even Jesus aren’t the hero you think they are. In fact they aren’t the hero that everyone around them thought they were either. They faced the obstacles of humanity and they let people down. Yes, they did really good things but the reality is Abraham participated in incest, lied, and along with Sarah tried to force God’s promises before their time.  So much for a hero who we are supposed to venerate.

Billy Graham regretfully sold out to the powers that be in his later life allowing a message of love to be twisted into a fundamentalist mantra that limited who qualified as a child of God. Countless gay persons have ended their lives because they believed the message that flowed out of his ministry and others like it that they were abominations. They believed the skewed message that they were unredeemable if they couldn’t change who they had been created to be. So much for hero who shared God’s redeeming message of unsurpassable love.

Movie spoiler here, but King t’Chaka in the most recent Marvel movie, Black Panther, abandons his own grandchild in the slums and ghetto of United States even as he and the rest of his family hoard their wealth, technology, and security from the world under the argument that they are protecting the world. So much for a hero for being the perfect king so much so that his own son believes he cannot follow in his footsteps.

And then we have Jesus, who is THE one, the one who will come to end Roman Control and free the people from slavery once again. But he doesn’t. Instead he tells his followers that he will die on a cross and their revolution that they envision will never even begin. He isn’t who they thought he was. So much for a hero and a Savior from Rome.

So when we talk about Peter today when we see and hear Jesus so angry that he throws down the gauntlet and calls Peter Satan it isn’t surprising to realize that Peter isn’t much of a hero either. Peter, the disciple upon whom the church would be built and whose apostolic succession I share even today, denied Christ three times and tried to argue with him.

Heroes are human too

From the time we are small children we crave heroes, people that we can look up to and emulate. People who will teach us how to be better how to be more how to be exceptional in our world. Often our first heroes are parents until we grow enough and see enough to realize they aren’t perfect either. So we turn our attention further afield. We look for others in our community and when they fail and turn out to be human, we look to those far enough from us that we cannot see the cracks and imperfections. And should we lose those, we turn to imagination, to stories from our childhood. Until the day we die, we crave someone we can look up to someone who will continue to teach us and lead us. Because we know that we are flawed creatures and we know that we are supposed to be something more; created to be someone more. But everywhere we turn, the heroes don’t hold up to scrutiny.

 Freed by Forde

I wonder then if maybe we are meant to find our own hero inside of us. If we are meant to be an imperfect person who grows and learns and becomes who God created us to be, in essence transforming our lives so that should we have seen ourselves at a younger age we would have been in awe.

Gerhard Forde was a Lutheran theologian and Professor.   In many ways, he is one of my heroes, imperfect as he was. And one of the reasons he is a hero of mine is because he is able to put into words the ideas and concepts that I struggle to express.

Even though he is but dust in the earth these days, his words ring true and are applicable because actually explains the paradox of the hero. He explains what it is to discover that there is nothing that we can do and no way we can measure up. In that discovery we are freed from focusing so hard on ourselves and are suddenly able to see other people and their need. And because there is nothing we can do to fix this world, to make Christ comes sooner, or to make ourselves more deserving of salvation we are left with a freedom to just respond to the world to respond to the need and to respond with absolute and unadulterated Love. Judgment is worthless and we realize we are no longer chained by expectations or limitations. It is the freedom of a Christian that Martin Luther wrote about; the freedom that comes from realizing every bit of gift, life, and love comes from God alone and there is nothing we can do to earn it or usher it in sooner. When we are freed from the shackles, we recognize that our sin cannot hold us back any longer. Suddenly we become the hero we were craving. No longer caught in hypocrisy and the struggle to take up our cross becomes a natural choice. When we understand that we are freed because we cannot do anything, we are suddenly empowered to do everything.

The real hero

That is the message that Christ is trying to share with his disciples which Peter struggled so valiantly against. Christ did the one thing he could; he gave up.

He surrendered.

He offered up his life because he knew that our struggle was unachievable and his humanity alone could not save us. When he surrendered his humanity, when he gave up his life and his breath on that cross, he was freed. We were freed. Because he gave up trying to be the perfect hero here on earth, he was freed from his human bonds and in his freedom he shattered our bonds that kept us from right relationship with God. In giving up, he gave us everything.

This week our theme from our welcome statement is “To welcome and respect all people”. The reality is that is sounds easier than doing it is. When you have differing opinions on guns in church it can be hard to respect the other person. When you have differing opinions on noisy children in church, it can be hard to be welcoming. When you have a difference of opinion on entering the sanctuary in silence before worship it is hard not to take it personally. And that is just inside church. Don’t get me started on gun control, abortion, or social support systems out in the community. But we are freed from trying to make the perfect decisions and opinions by Christ, so that we are free to love and respect all people regardless of differences. Our faith practice is to read scripture which helps us to understand the story of humanity and God’s abiding love for us. To show us that hero’s are not always perfect and that God isn’t looking for perfection from us, just relationship.

So maybe, being a hero isn’t about chasing down the bad guy or forcing judgment upon others. Maybe heroes are meant to be imperfect in their perfection. Maybe the hero isn’t who you thought he or she might be. Maybe the hero through the promise of our baptismal Waters and Christ’s death and resurrection, is you and me freed because there is nothing we can do to earn it or make it happen. Maybe that heroes are the ones to realize they have nothing left to lose and everything to gain.

Maybe heroes are the ones who give up everything so that they are freed for their greater purpose just as Christ did for us. To love.

We condemn Ourselves- God Saves

Written for Lent 4B (Lectionary Cycle)

How many of us memorized John 3: 16 as a child? It is amazing how many learned that verse.  I wonder though, how many memorized the next verse?  John 3:17:

“Indeed, God did not send the son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

We get so caught up in the idea of our belief (whosoever believes in Him), that we miss out on the idea that God came as the Son to save us, not condemn us.

It will sound crazy to you, but I am going to state a theory and wonder if you will explore it with me.
God does not condemn us.

I wondered to myself then, what does God do?  Well, God judges.  But judgment and condemnation are not the same thing.

Judgment is a pronouncement of what is. Condemnation is the lived out consequence.

God does not punish us, in fact, I don’t believe God ever has. Scour the Bible and every time we try to make a story into God punishing us, in reality it is us living out the consequence of our choices and God is merely the agent of our choice being lived out. From the very beginning in the Garden, we chose to walk away from what was good and healthy. The Old Testament is full of stories of the people of God choosing self over relationship with God and suffering the consequence. Today’s reading from Numbers 21:4-9 is a perfect example, the serpents were sent because Israel was once again complaining that relationship with and provision from God was not enough to keep them happy.

So let’s expand the theory a tad.

God does not condemn us. We condemn ourselves.

Yes, God sent the serpents. Yes, it feels like God punishing us, but in the end, it is merely God being an agent in the condemnation we chose to risk. They chose rebellion, and the consequence of rebellion and living without God is death. When John states that those who do not believe are already condemned, it isn’t because God doesn’t want us to live, rather, because we choose not to choose life. And then it is simple math, When we don’t choose life, we choose death.

How the are we to be saved from this condemnation? To be saved from sin we must recognize it and examine it. God told Moses to lift up the symbol of death to be gazed upon in order to find life. The snake that was the way of death, was also the way of life.

God does not condemn us. We condemn ourselves. God comes to Save us.

If sin is rooted in our fleshly desires, then flesh needs to save us. And so it did. A human was sent to save us from our own humanity.

God slipped into skin with us, lived out sweat and tears, bodily functions of lust, love and anger. And then was lifted up on a stick to let us gaze upon and find life.

This is not condemnation. This is salvation. God WITH us. Suffering with us, living with us, like us, and then dying like us to bring us into eternal life together.

God came to shine a light on our sin, to declare what already existed and name it, and then because we condemned ourselves to separation, God came to be with us and be lifted up to save us from ourselves.

This week, our Lenten examine of our mission statement covers our mission

“to equip all saints for their life in the Christian Heritage and Lutheran Understanding of that Heritage”

Martin Luther lived his early life believing that God was cruel, vindictive and waiting to pounce on our every misstep. But it was not until he examined the Word closely, that he began to discover the truth I theorized earlier. God does not condemn us. We condemn ourselves. God comes to Save us.

Sadly, even our mission statement could be misconstrued for lifting up anger and hatred too. So today, I want to lift up the snake of our past to help us begin to heal for the future.

For generations, This same passage from John has been used, especially in Eurocentric denominations, to include Lutheranism for arguing a lesser value based on skin color because of the way light and dark are written about. Even among people of darker skin, there is a value on lighter skin because of this passage.

We are not talking about skin here folks. This passage has never been about shaming darkness or dark skin. It is about illumination.

Humans have use the dark for evil, but dark is not evil. It is good. It is the place that God dwelt before us. Light was made so that we might see, because we are the ones who were afraid of the dark, that sacred, spiritual, beautiful, velvety place where we are called to stillness, healing and rest. We are the ones who used and still abuse it for evil purposes. When my cousins teach their beautiful latina daughters to avoid the sun because they will look like field workers, they denigrate the beauty of the skin those girls were born with and they hurt themselves.  And they know it.  They take the ugly parts of our slavery and colonized past and continue the mental and spiritual slavery of our flesh because we wont let them stop.

And we have to stop. We have to lift up the beauty of God created bodies as perfect the way God made them and that the darkest of ebony skin is as lovely and valuable as peaches and cream unfreckled skin. The skin of field workers and laborers is as valued as a professors pale sun starved skin. Both bring life and light to our world.

We can try to hide all we want in the dark, but our sin will condemn us all without a single word of judgment from God or humanity. But we have to stop blaming the dark and we have to stop blaming creation and our bodies for the willful mind that we invoke when we decide we don’t need God in our lives.

So how do we equip the saints?  How do we fulfill our mission in the midst of our own past and present circustance? We start with loving deeply and imperfectly. We start by lifting up our past, our sin, as Martin Luther did, and we continue by leaning into a relationship with God, by trusting that God loves us and that we are cleansed and made new by our baptismal promise. We make room for others to come to know Christ without shoving faith and scripture down their throats. We offer love and promise in Christ and invite into those same scriptures with curiosity and safety.

Fr Anthony Hutchinson said, “not all snakes are bad, and not all angels are good. We need discernment to sort out where God’s grace can apply, and where we imaginatively and joyously expand the scope of holiness and grace. We need discernment to distinguish between the divine and its near enemies as well. Jesus, lifted up on the cross like that snake on a pole, stands ready to help us.”

I leave my theory to you.   Test it.  See if it stands true.

God does not condemn us. We condemn ourselves. God comes to Save us. We just need to say yes.