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.  

 

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.