Lent 1- Who, Which and Whatsit

Feb 18, 2018

Baptized and Named doesn’t mean the obstacles go away

The hardest part about being a Christian let alone a pastor, is explaining how I do not see myself as better, purer, more righteous, or less sinful then those who are not Christian or pastors themselves. Just because I am baptized and ordained as a pastor doesn’t give me an advantage over anyone else. In fact, I am just as likely to mess up in this world and the reality is that I am less likely to be forgiven for it by others. We seem to need to believe that once we are baptized or called to be leaders, somehow we are less likely to be fully human.

So in hearing about Jesus being baptized and claimed as God’s son it may be tempting for us to believe that he was less then fully human.   That somehow he had a foot up when he was driven into the desert and tempted for 40 days. Some might even argue that because he had angels he had an advantage.   But I don’t think so.

Driven into the Wilderness To find Ourselves.

Even Jesus needed to figure out who and whose he was. Because he was fully human he has some limitations just like the rest of us. I can’t explain how that worked but I can trust that he also faced all of the obstacles and temptations that we do. Because of this, Jesus needed to know himself, needed to know his strengths, and his weaknesses.

There are any uses of the word test. It can be used in a positive or a negative connotation. We test things to make sure they work we give the trial runs, we checked a rope or a knot to ensure that it holds. Testing can also be a malicious attempt to solicit evil and sin.

I like to think that when the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness, he faced both.   Not only was he tested and tempted by evil and sin, but he also was able to assure himself of who and whose he was. He used the time for testing, resting, and praying. And when he came out of the wilderness he knew his purpose more surely. He was ready for the greater trials ahead. It was not a bad time rather, it was a productive time to ensure that he could handle what was to come.

Who and Whose we are

One of my favorite books has been made into a blockbuster movie. In March the young adult novel, “A Wrinkle in Time” by Christian author Madeline L’ Engle will be in theaters. The movie and book chronicle the story of Meg, a young woman who needs to learn who she is. She, her brother, and a friend travel through time and space guided by Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Which to fight Evil from taking over.  Like the Holy Spirit the Mrs. W’s guide, prod, chastise, encourage and comfort.

Each time making faces a problem she is further equipped for the next obstacle to come. When she is tempted and often feels alone however, the Mrs. W’s are never far away

In fact, they are often only a shout away. Much like our Holy Spirit.

We are in lent now. Our sanctuary reflects the wilderness in which Jesus may have found himself. Your wilderness may not be in nature but I am sure that you can relate to the sparsity and the struggle of your own internal wilderness and how it maybe reflected in the struggle to see the candles and their light through darkened glass. I am sure you see the reflection of feeling like dry bones parched and thirsting for living water in the dry branches and herbs on the wall. I am sure you feel the struggle to grasp the promise of baptism as you dip your fingers into the font and must touch sand and rock in order to reach the water that reminds you of your baptismal promise and God’s provision. And I am sure that as you chew a heartier bread you will taste the hard work of receiving that which is given freely to us, but that we often have a hard time taking in. The promises of life and water in the desert are sparse, but they are there nonetheless. They are rugged and hardy.

When we are in the wilderness, the promises of God may seem few and far between, hard to reach, hard to see even. But they are there, rugged and hardy, too. This is what we recall during our Lenten reflection of Testing, resting, and prayer.

Our Welcome Statement

Each week of Lent we will work through who and whose we are as a congregation and as individuals. Sundays we will work on our congregational identity, Wednesday evenings, we will look closer at our own identity in Christ.

This week we begin with our welcome and desire to walk with others.

First we must know who and whose we are so that we do not lead others astray. We must welcome them as equals, as fellow journeyman along the way. So this week I invite you to ponder what it is to walk with. What it is to be with someone without judgment, without leading, without following, but simply coming alongside. What is it to walk with those we worship beside, expecting nothing but presence and accompaniment, and providing nothing but the same in return. What is it for us to allow Christ to lead? It may be a lot like the journey of Meg, who must trust in something far bigger than she is. It may look like being angels or just witnessing them. It may look like being alone. What it is will be up to you. This week, surrender to the wilderness and let yourself be in an uncomfortable place. Rest there. Ask questions and wonder. Just be who and whose you are and let Christ lead.

 

 

 

 

 

4th Epiphany: #metoo and #ibelieve will set us free

The Noise of It All

This passage is noisy. Look at it again; The Sabbath is rarely quiet as we all gather and enter our place of worship. Jesus was teaching, and suddenly a man is crying out (the literal translation is squawking like a loud bird). After that we have rebuking, convulsing, and more crying out followed by amazement which was surely noisy and everyone talking to one another. Finally, the noise of gossip as news spreads about Jesus.

 

That is the way of things isn’t it? Once something is out in the open, everyone has a commentary, everyone is surprised. Here is God breaking into our world again in no silent and gentle way, but like his birth with angels singing and animals living, like the noise of kings arriving with camels and companions, like the wedding at Cana when water is turned into wine of the best quality and like a baptism where the heavens are ripped apart, here is God, in the Son, breaking into our world noisily and everyone is noticing. It is noisy, it is awkward, and it is scary. But then, isn’t it always noisy when the way of things gets upset?

 

#MeToo is noisy

I had no intention to preach about this again so soon but here we are and #metoo has not gone away. It seems that what started as upheaval in the entertainment industry has shifted to the political, the sports realm, and even now into the church; our church. And just like the people who witnessed Jesus confronting the demon who was in this man, it is scary to behold and the leaves us wondering what all of this means. It’s frightening and we wonder if this will come home to rest among our friends, among our family, among our people. And so it has.

Recently our church narrowly missed an accusation of clergy misconduct by a previous pastor. It turned out it was neither one of our pastors nor our church. However, for a period of time our executive committee was distressed, frightened, and devastated at the idea that something like this could have happened at Hope, even if it was far in the past. I wondered when the time would be for me to share that this had happened especially since it was a false alarm.

And then I got an email this week; many of you know that I was a seminary candidate of Metro New York Synod for my entire seminary career. In fact my membership change to become your pastor had me sending a letter to my church in Metro New York. The email I received shared the devastating news that my Bishop, Robert Rimbo, had resigned not only as bishop but he also resigned from the roster of ordained persons in the ELCA following allegations and charges of clergy sexual misconduct. While those who know Bishop Rimbo are most stunned, and while all of Metro New York synod is grieving this circumstance, we cannot ignore that the #metoo movement has come home to roost in the ELCA as well. There is no place where persons can trespass upon the spirit and body of another without being held accountable. And the response is noisy, scary, and awkward because the way of things have been upset.

 

Spirits and Demons insist to exist

It’s easy when we read this gospel lesson to dismiss many parts of it. We are no longer in the dark ages and we are far past the Renaissance and the age of Enlightenment. We are in an age where science rules, where are things must be seen or explainable in order to be believed. We believe in proof and if it cannot be proved it is dismissed as fantasy or psychological phenomena. It’s easy then to explain away the demon as schizophrenia or some other psychological diagnoses.

 

The church seems to have moved away from acknowledging the reality of the spiritual realm which exists and may not always be visible. But just because we cannot see something doesn’t mean it does not exist. I cannot see the biting mechanism of a black widow but that does not mean that it’s bite is any less deadly. Ignorance and ignoring are not bliss. If you sit down with folks and listen long enough almost everyone has a story of the inexplicable spiritual nature that sounds unbelievable. And we wonder why they don’t speak about it. And we wonder why the women of than me to movement didn’t speak up earlier. Well it’s because they didn’t think anyone would believe them. But whether we believe them or not they exist. And the only way to overcome the awkward, scary, and traumatic of the spiritual realm and the #metoo movement pain is to name it, to face it, and to call it out. This is what Christ is doing here. Naming the pain, naming the trespass, and offering healing to all involved.

 

Even Demons Know God (Right)

Before I go further I want to take a moment and define what I mean buy a trespasser in this sermon. A trespasser is one who has crossed the line whether by an inch or by a mile. they have violated the spiritual or physical space of someone else without their permission. This is trespass. I am not making a statement that rapist are the same as a man who catcalls women. However trespass is trespass. And so for the sake of today’s message that term will mean anyone who has violated the rights of another in any sexual manner. I also want to clarify that I am not calling trespassers demons nor am I declaring whether or not they are demon possessed. However the two situations deal with similar circumstances.

 

The demon knew Jesus. The moment he saw Jesus, the moment he heard him, he knew who he was. He was shocked and he was afraid because he was finally being held accountable. And I cannot wonder if he also drew attention to himself because he knew that Jesus would set him free.

And trespassers know what right looks like. They know how they are supposed to behave.   We know this because part of the story always ends up being about how surprised everyone else is about their behavior. If they didn’t “know any better” this would be their daily presentation. Instead, they know the behavior is wrong and they hide out of fear and pain, even as I believe they crave freedom from it. The fact is in this story there is a man and a demon and in every #metoo story there is a man and his behavior. And it is important for us to separate the two. I am not excusing sexual misconduct. But, it does not define the person anymore then the demon defined the man that he was in. Everyone is worth saving, everyone is worth loving, everyone is worth forgiving. Yes, there needs to be accountability first. Yes, the behavior must discontinue. And yes, to move on there needs to be forgiveness and new boundaries. All of this is found in Christ. All of this is found by naming and claiming the circumstance and the Savior.

 

Me, TOO and I Believe will Set Us Free

You see the fact is Christ came to set every one free; the man the demon the woman and the trespasser. And it begins with naming; by saying #metoo and we move toward healing and salvation when we say I believe. Me too and I believe Will set us free. They will set our community free.

Our First Corinthians reading today speaks of what it is to be in community with one another. It explains how our behavior can inform, strengthen, or weaken the behavior of those around us. Paul emphasizes the power of community to encourage sin, reveal sin, or heal sin.   It is our job as community then to attend to the ones around us who are hurting and who have been hurt, because the two are not always the same person. Our job is to believe, to name, to heal, and to love. It is difficult work. It is the work of prophets and disciples. We are to love both the one who has been harmed and the one who harms them. We are to help create healthy boundaries and healthy communities where victims are believed and where opportunities to victimize are decreased.

 

This is love. This is the ministry of Christ in this world. It is upsetting, it is noisy, it is scary, and it requires belief. But we are not on our own. We are never alone. Our God is a God of relationship, our God is a god of redemption, our God is the god of salvation and hope. And our promise that God is with us is made true and evident in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ who came to be in the same skin as us. Who came to suffer with us, to love with us, to live with us, and to die with us so that we might have eternal life together. Christ shows us once again that naming it and claiming it will set us free, and when we are free in Christ we are truly free indeed.

The Schizo Ripped Apart

Baptism of Our Lord Year A

January 14, 2018

Hope Lutheran Church

 

In the beginning was Good

The spirit moved over the waters of creation- already doing her work in the world. As the Father crafted and created, she danced and inspired- even as the Holy Spirit does for us today. And the Word was with God. In the beginning it was good and God called it so- day after day.

Until we got a little control and suddenly schizo- the ripping apart- a violent separation. We were separated from God by our own actions. The curtain went up, the walls went up and we were sent into the world anxious, afraid, and defensive. Covering ourselves from the beginning and killing our brothers out of jealousy over what they had. We placed limits on goods and good. Believing that there was somehow less in creation than there had been before. Works righteousness found its roots and we began to value the ones who had already produced and were fruitful over those who had not.

Humans= Good; Ego= Evil

In our desire to hoard the goods we limited, we created places that no one wanted to live. Places that did not produce were devalued- they were overrun by the cast offs or worse, even while they were good people there, we called them less. So that when a babe was raised in Nazareth, who would come to save the world, the leaders sarcastically and accusingly argued, “what good can come from Nazareth?”

Of course. And we still do it today. What good can come from Haiti? Somalia? Sierra Leone? Detroit? Compton? Mexico? El Salvador? Syria? Fontana? What good indeed can come from Nazareth?

We remain inherently good as God created us- full of possibility and promise no matter where we hail from. Everyone has the same capacity for violence and laziness as they do for success and profit. Whether from Norway or Haiti, every person is precious and full of potential because that is how God created us. But we do the separating. We do the judging and the limiting of resources. We created the schizo.

So when John was baptizing in the wilderness, he was calling people on their crap. He was getting real. Reminding them that WE are the ones who need to repent- we are the ones who have limited God in God’s own house! Creation and this earth is God’s- perfectly made, every inch of this earth is lovely and full of promise. Only we strip it, sell it, limit it and abandon it when it serves us no more- the people along with the land.

So yeah. We needed John’s repentance baptism.

John’s Baptism- looking back

The problem is that John’s baptism is a looking back. It is repentance for what we have done with an assumption that we are now clean. Until we take the next breathe or get cut off in traffic or approached by a smelly homeless person.   John was offering repentance for what is past, preparing us for the future, but not securing it.

True repentance involves sorrow for the past and promise to do better going forward, but the problem is, we created the schism…. And we need more repentance immediately after offering it. It isn’t lasting. Yes, it is preparation for the Lord, but it is only that and nothing more.

Jesus’ Baptism- looking forward

And then along comes Jesus, with a baptism in the Holy Spirit.   She danced and moved over the waters at creation and then we separated ourselves from God. So at Christ’s baptism there is a literal breaking in of the Holy Spirit once again. The New Testament only uses the verb schizo twice- once at the Baptism when the Holy Spirit literally rips the heavens apart to get to Christ and at his death, when the veil of the temple is torn irreparably in two and humanity is permanently reconciled with God. The schizo we created is undone.

And that means that the walls and limits we have placed on God are undone. The Holy Spirit is free and moving among us, removing all artifice about who is of more value than whom, ripping apart our understanding of limitations and placing every human as equal heirs with Christ.

In our Holy Baptism, we are baptized in that Spirit. Our bonds of fear and anxiety are ripped away from us, and we we are left naked again, clothed only in robes of righteousness and salvation.

But it is hard- and scary and we have done this for so long- this placing values on others and hoarding the goods and good in the world that we don’t’ easily know how to live another way. So we find ourselves putting more value on people from Norway over Haiti- except that values change and 150 years ago those Norwegians were the dregs of the earth. Poor and ignorant. Nothing to offer the world. But given the chance, given the opportunity to stop limiting goods, humanity will always show its potential. And that is what happens in our Baptism in Christ and the Holy Spirit. We are given the chance to shine and show that we are all beloved and valuable to God.

Baptismal Call- given for all

And here is the best part. This baptismal promise is given equally to all of us. With blue eyes or brown. With brown skin or pink. With education or ignorance. With wealth or poverty. Because the promise of Christ through the baptism of the Holy Spirit is not about worth and what you can give. It is about Love and how much God loves you and all of creation.

You are loved. They are loved and there is more than enough love to go around. There is more than enough provision to go around. There is enough; there is plenty!!!! Because love is not limited and neither is God.

So as baptized Christians, we are called to live fully into this promise first and foremost- to forsake father, mother, spouse, child, country, and every single connection we have, if need be, in order to place God first in our lives. We are in Christ first, we are God’s first. And that means we need to live like it.

We are free every day to community and openness. We are equipped by the Holy Spirit to open doors and tear down walls. To live into an economy of bounty and joy, of promise and fulfillment and to remember that our God is not limited or limiting in Love and promise to all of humanity. We are freed in these precious baptismal waters of the Holy Spirit to free people and welcome them in so that God our father will also say, “This is my child, in whom I am well pleased.”

It’s hard; but we are not alone. Christmas Eve 2017

Some days are hard days. The Holidays and the drama of family and expectations notwithstanding, you know the ones I am speaking of. The ones where you want to put on your most comfortable pajamas and crawl into a warm soft bed to hide. It feels safe there. And the world can be a hard and unwelcoming place- like the Bethlehem of Christ’s birth- no room for even a woman in labor. Talk about a bad day.

I wanted to say this has been a hard year, but in reality, the last 3 have been hard. In fact, I suspect, if we really looked back in detail at every year, we would recognize, they were all hard years. It just seems the most recent rises up as the toughest.

The politics of the United States are literally crazy-making for us, let alone our international friends trying to make sense of what is going on. Our continued struggle to face the persistent nasty residue of slavery and Jim Crow twisted in with struggling police forces who have imperfect people among them, too has left us either angry or confused to the point of exhaustion. #metoo has made the cover of Time Magazine- women breaking the critical mass in markets and finally refusing to be mistreated any longer has opened a well of pain and a flood of voices speaking up about their pain and experiences. Our military conflicts continue- unabated and outrageously expensive. And everything from heroin to polio is making a huge comeback and taking lives at stunning rates. It has been a hard year indeed. And as a pastor, there are days I wonder how I am supposed to lead through THIS kind of shadow. How am I supposed to illuminate the murky shadow?

And then thank God, for more reasons than I can count- we have Christmas. The moments we get to catch our breathe and remember that we are not supposed to do this alone. Gabriel promised Mary that “nothing is impossible with God” and it is true. So as we read of a savior to come who will carry the governments upon his shoulders, I want to take a moment and flesh out that image for you. It doesn’t mean he will run the governments or that they will be created or run in his name. It means he is bigger than those governments- so much bigger he can put them on his shoulders to walk away with them. He can take the things that seem inconceivably large and impossible to manage let alone understand and pick them up like a baby lamb to carry across his strong and capable shoulders. Stop for a minute and think about that. If our Messiah can carry the impossibly large concept of entire governments and nations upon his shoulders, what burden is so big that he cannot carry it with ease? For him, this burden, your burden, any burden is light. Nothing is too big for our God to handle.   Nothing. Not divorce, not cancer, not addiction, not homelessness, not depression and certainly not death.

It is hard to imagine this kind of power in a tiny baby tonight. So small and innocent we can hardly relate that with the power to shoulder the burdens of the whole world upon his shoulders. But he did and he does. The shepherds knew it- they knew something bigger and more amazing than they could grasp had occurred and they went and saw for themselves. They didn’t trust the word of the person next door or their social media. They went, they saw, they got the t-shirt. And then they went and shared with others at the top of their lungs.

And that is how the light of hope pierced the dark of night. They shared the good news. They told others and they shouted it from the mountain tops. Yes, Christ is our light and our hope. Yes, the Holy Spirit remains with us today. But the true illumination of Christ happens through us with one another. The Light of Christ works through us in the midst of our daily chaos and relationship with one another. His voice is the voice of one who calls out “good morning” or his smile is the smile of welcome in a strange place. The light of Christ is the one who stops to help you change a flat tire or pays for your coffee ahead of you.

God came to us to live in Mary, to be birthed into our world and to live among us because relationship means so very much. It is in relationship that we reveal the dance of the Holy Spirit to be concrete and visible in our world. Christ is with us still in every smile, every prayer, every hug or gentle blessing. The moments that make your day a little lighter, a little easier to bear? Those are Christ, taking our burdens upon his shoulders and granting us rest and reprieve through the ones around us. The gift of this messiah is more than a glorious forever-after. The gift is the carrying of our burdens now, here, so that we do not walk this world alone and so that nothing we face ever need to be impossible to bear. This gift of the innocent child is the invitation into relationship with God and one another once more- a gift of love and compassion that shines in the deepest darkness.

So this Christmas, share the gift. Share the love. Share the story and the promise and let the Holy Spirit dance through you- through your actions, your smile, your embrace to the lonely, the weak, and the weary. Bear Christ into our world so that when the days seem hard, we can confidently declare that the wonderful counselor, almighty God, everlasting Father and son have come to us, Emmanuel, God with us.

Say Yes to the Mess; Advent 4- 2017

Any time of the year is a hard time to be homeless. Any time of year is hard to be a traveler. But doesn’t it seem that the idea of being homeless or a traveler during Christmas is a little harder to swallow? Shouldn’t everyone be home for Christmas? Shouldn’t everyone have a home for Christmas?

And yet, tonight, we will hear of how a young woman and her husband are forced to travel and cannot find a welcoming place, let alone be home to birth their child. The very beginning of Christmas starts with a couple far from home, stranded and without shelter. Jesus without a home.

But it actually began earlier. This is not the first time that God would struggle to be welcomed and housed with humanity. From even the beginning, God wanted to be “home” with us- a garden to enjoy and wander together. And even as late as David, God still had no home among humanity. God spoke to David through the prophet Nathan and all but begged David for a home, the Temple, a place to belong. Even though David was a mess personally, God loved David and wanted to find home with him and with the people of Israel. So David said, “yes.” In return, God blessed David and his lineage.

Leap forward a few hundred years and we have Mary, who is nothing like David- she is young, innocent, and obviously a thinker but who has little to offer of her own. She has no kingdom or power, no prestige or reputation. All she has is herself; her own heart and mind. And again, God asks permission to have a home, asking Mary if she is willing to be home for God’s own self to grow and be nurtured here on earth. And Mary said, “yes, let it be so with me.” In return, God favored her and blessed her.

If only it were that simple. If you have ever lived with another human, you know we never seem to have the same goals, ideals, or even cleaning standards. When it comes to home and family, we tend to overlook a lot of that on our good days. We show grace- making allowance for each person to be authentic and comfortable. Because home is a place where everyone is supposed to feel safe and welcome, where we can to walk around in pj’s-where we can know and be known. Home is supposed to be where we belong- always. Home is comfy and busy and peaceful and messy sometimes.

Sometimes our needs overlap and don’t match up at all- in my house it may be my need to watch sappy Christmas movies and knit butting up against my husbands need to watch a raucous game of hockey. But we stay- and we work through the difficult parts and delve even deeper into what it means to be in relationship with one another. We acknowledge the warts, the stinky feet, and the chin hairs. We acknowledge the singing in the shower, the dirty dishes left in the sink, and dirty clothes on the bathroom floor. We also acknowledge the gift of a shared meal, a snuggle on the couch, an energetic wii-danceoff and the hugs good morning and goodnight.
Because with the messy, comes something quite lovely. A deep-seated sense of wellness and belonging that cannot be easily uprooted. And don’t we all crave that? Maybe that is what it is to be created in the image of God?

So I wonder then, what gave David and for that fact, young Mary the courage to say, “yes, I will build home for you, I will BE home for you”? How did they get to “yes”? To start with, they each knew who God was. God was stranger to neither David nor Mary. Each had been having regular conversation with God through prayer and worship. Each came from a lineage of strong and faithful people who showed them how to be in relationship with God on a daily basis through prayers, offering, and worship. So when God asks them such an intimate question as “hey, wanna move in together?” They already knew the one with whom they are making a commitment. They knew what it meant to be hospitable to God because God had already been hospitable and welcoming to them.

Secondly, they welcomed the messiness that they surely knew would happen.   There is no way for God to inhabit our world and our lives without a mess- Professor Karoline Lewis points out, the annunciation to Mary helps us remember that God becoming human should always unsettle and upset, especially when we have settled into times when we try to predict God’s arrival or determine God’s favor. God never quite fits into the box we like to put God in.

And when we welcome the unsettling ways that God shows up, the discomfort of being shaped and reformed like a pregnant woman’s body, when we lean into the messy nature of our family together when we recognize the value of the change and the messiness of relationship and we embrace it instead of fighting it- we find a new joy, a new way of seeing the world through the lens of bringing about goodness and life. Yes, it hurts to change and grow- and even to witness change, because even in witnessing, we are changed too. And it is amazing and life-giving. It is good and hard.

David welcomed God into the world and gave God a home in the temple. Mary welcomed Christ into her body and gave him birth into this world. And you, you can choose to be the temple in which the Holy Spirit remains in residence and dances with you through the good and bad of life.

It is still advent. We are still preparing the way- and you have a choice. Will you open the doors, roll up the rugs and invite the Triune God into your life with joy? Whether innocent virgin woman or worldly powerful king, will you “be” home? Will you let your understanding of others and the call to be home to the whole of creation become your purpose and life? Will you welcome the Christ child in the words of our beloved Mary, with a resounding and joyous “yes! let it be to me according to your will”? Will you say yes to the mess? There is blessing awaiting you. Do not be afraid- for you are highly favored.

 

 

 

Longest Night- God with us, Emmanuel

Luke 1:26-38
Fear Not. Yeah. Famous last words that God’s messengers always seem to start with just before they announce a huge disruption. With these words it seems the world has just been upended for the listener. And here is young Mary who is troubled by the obvious sales pitch coming from the angel Gabriel who sounds like a slick sales guy: “yo- pretty lady, you are so lucky you met me.” She didn’t really ponder the words so much as she was troubled by them. She seems to sense that there is a flip side to this deal and she knows that being “favored” is not as great as it sounds in those days- I mean Queen Esther was “favored” too, and if she had turned it down she and her family would have been killed.   In all honesty, his words, “Do not fear” don’t exactly establish trust or good reason to chill out. They are kind of like the phone call from the hospital that says, “ I don’t want to alarm you, but…”

So, God bless her for her teenage attitude- because she listens to the messenger with a typical teenage heart and immediately begins to question the messenger. Only a teen girl could have the courage to challenge an arc- angel, am I right?
You can almost hear her saying “Um, hey, Gabe, just how is that supposed to happen since I am not exactly having sex? Didn’t anyone teach you the birds and bees?”.

And then the messenger tells her how it will work.

You know that song, Mary did you know? Yeah, well, Mary knew alright. She knew every step ahead of time and she surely knew from seeing other young women get pregnant before marriage that trouble was on the horizon.

Still, she has more courage than almost any other biblical character and she says, “ok.”

She says yes to the biggest cockamamie idea yet- one that could likely get her killed. And she had choices. Unlike Esther, she could have said no. She could have argued, been bitter, been angry. Instead she says, Yes, not just yes, but resounding and rejoicing yes. Because the messenger reminds her that with God, nothing is impossible.

Each of you are here tonight because the holiday season is painful. Your hearts are not in it and you have good reason. Some of you have had more than just a disruption in your life- some of you have had it decimated by death, destroyed by addiction, or shattered by circumstance beyond your control.   You know what it is to be standing neck deep in agony – breathless and without any sense of control, promise, or hope. Unlike Mary, you didn’t get to say no to divorce, death, illness, poverty, or a loved one’s addiction.

But that doesn’t mean we cannot glean a glimmer of hope and light from her experience. Joy is light for us to follow, to be warmed by, to dance by. But when you are breathless from grief, fear, and anger, it is almost as though joy is a wimpy little flame that can be extinguished by the tiniest exhale. So we keep holding our breath- our tears- our sorrow and we sit, still and silent even as we yearn to run, to scream, to cry, to move, to sigh, and breathe every breathe that we can . Meanwhile, we wish we had the bonfire of life and light to dance like the Wild Things we are inside- to be warmed and to love by.

I promise you, the bonfire of life and joy is waiting. But it starts with a tiny flame that we nurture and celebrate by beginning to live again without fear- taking the lesson of Mary and offering our very self up to God to use and fill and give new life from. Tonight is about realizing we have been waiting to exhale and then doing it. Giving our tears to God, letting our very breathe be prayer (ya-weh) and offering our pain up to God. Because that is why God sent Jesus- why Mary endured the humiliation to bear a child into the dirtiest and most unwelcoming place so that God might be WITH us and we would never need to endure alone.

In the midst of the busy season while other bustle- you sit still and holding your breath. Let it out. Let it go. Let it be the prayer it needs to be- let the Holy Spirit translate the words you cannot say and then, let God BE with you.

Yes what you are bearing may be impossible to bear alone. But the wisdom of the angel’s promise to Mary’s guides us- For nothing will be impossible with God. The good news is that Christ is already born, already with us, already accompanying us if we will but let him.

That is the good news- the news we have been holding our breath to hear and remember- Christ is born this day to be with you. Fear Not, you, beloved are also highly favored- God sent the son to be your light. The gloom will not win. Light is coming, light is here, God with us, Emanuel.3jg5shkw-1450101453

Finding Joy means Rejoicing- Advent 3 December 2017

We made it to week three! More than half way through our journey of Advent. The readings and season seem full of shadows and reminders of how difficult everything is. From John calling us all vipers to fewer hours of sunlight, the illumination of hope can sometimes seem dim. And when times are tough we have two choices: we can cry or we can… laugh.   Have you ever had one of those days? You know the ones I am talking about; the ones where you are a teenage girl and following all the rules and suddenly you are pregnant and unmarried? I don’t know about you but I have had a few laugh or cry days and even those pale in comparison to what Mary was facing as she awaited our Christ. So she did what she could do. She rejoiced. She leaned into the Psalms like todays that ask for help and she rejoiced in her circumstance understanding that the Lord restores our hope even if the world only sees it as a dirty little thing. When we rejoice, we offer what we have- what little or lot it may be and God gives us hope in return, cleaned up, shined up, washed and ready to share with the world. So today, we rejoice. It is Gaudete Sunday- the day of rejoicing in the midst of the shadow and gloom.

Even in the face of probable death both Mary and John-2How do we do that though? What kind of joy is there to offer up in difficult circumstances like Mary’s where death is now the imminent likelihood? Well, I can assure you it is not the happy skippy-joy-joy of Disney. Rather it is a joy that is deep and teary and passes all understanding. It is the joy when a loved one dies after a long illness or addiction- that they are finally free. It is the joy of watching your child go off to college and no longer “need” you. It is the joy of being too poor to go to Paris for a date and being able to rely on your imagination which is infinite and will take you to Mali and Ireland and Taiwan too. It is the joy that lets a young girl sing out with tears streaming down her face and offer her life, her body, and her future up to God with praise. It is the offering of the tears- that is the kind of joy I am talking about, the very last thing we have, and giving it up to God by choice frees us from our shackles. It is a letting go and letting God.

 

John knew what it was to just offer up what we have. He lived in the desert for goodness sake. He was not on the social ‘A’ list- awkward at best and just plain unpleasant and offensive at worst, he offered up what he had- that he could point to Christ and let the world know the Messiah is coming. He offered up plain water and baptism that was in many ways just an action- it did nothing. No special promises, just washing clean the body so that they might be ready for the Messiah. But he knew in offering up his plain old baptisms, and his rough course language and truth that the Lord would restore the people and they would be ready for Jesus who would come and offer a new baptism that not only washed them clean but literally make them new. It would not just restore the hope and promise- it would be a whole new promise, a whole new way of loving and living, with an eternal twist that would grant joy beyond understanding.

Have you ever had tres leches or rum cake? Did you know the secret is to soak them until the liquid is pooling around the cake and then to let it sit until it is drawn up into every morsel of the cake, creating a moist and yummy goodness? It is a fullness that almost seems excessive. It is too much- almost gaudy in the fullness and excessive nature. And it is because of the absolute fullness and a little bit of patience that we experience amazing rich yumminess. The cake sits as an island surrounded by impossible odds. And the magic that is food heaven happens when the cake just takes it all in. John and Mary knew that over-fullness. That excessive nature of God and that it would knock the socks off the world. So even in the shadows of possible death and silence of the prophets, they rejoiced. They offered up their lives, reputation, tears and fear in a refrain of rejoicing and in return, God granted them and the whole world who would come after them the hope and promise of something new- Jesus, our Savior, who would come to illuminate the shadows and offer us redeemed and eternal salvation, a celebration of love and intent for us all.

So yes, we celebrate. We rejoice- always, in all things we find joy and we offer it up- because who wouldn’t rather laugh and dance?