Do not be afraid of the dark-2nd sermon for Hope (Nov 12, 2017)

Christ is not an economy, he is pure gift.“Shave your LEGS!” the cry would come over the telephone. My father was a special ops Soldier and we never knew when they were coming home. The only notice we ever got was from a wife who lived near the special airfield that was specifically for our helicopters. She would hear the blades cutting the dark night air and she would run to the phone and make the first call to the phone tree. Of course, with their husbands gone, many a wife had pointed their attention elsewhere as they focused on children and homes and the inevitable things that go wrong when your Soldier is away. So they ran for showers- to shave, smell pretty, and gussy to welcome their tired and homesick Soldiers.

I heard my mom tell this story again recently and it ran through my head as I thought of the bridesmaids who were not ready. Their cry of “Shave your legs” was the bridesmaids, “Look, Here is the Bridegroom!” Like the bridesmaids who knew the groom was coming soon, these wives KNEW their husbands would be back someday soon and they were anxiously waiting. They knew from experience what to do.

Unlike a military spouse awaiting their beloved service member, or bridesmaids holding on for a few extra hours, our community in Christ has become a little more forgetful. After all, it has been 2,000 years. It is almost as though we know it is supposed to happen, but not really, or at least not in our lifetime, so, as long as we are good for the funeral, why worry? But Christ IS coming and we need to be prepared.

My Dad was always ready. In an instant the call would come and he was required to be out the door in 2 minutes flat. His bag and gear were always ready- always being tripped over and taking up floor space. Unforgettable. He was ready. But then, that is what he did for a living right? All of our troops are ready. Their spouse and children are always ready. They never believe that they are safe from the call that says it is time to go. Even now, in retirement, my heart still skips a beat- until we hit that 1 year mark, when he can no longer be recalled as though he were still active with little to no notice. But this is what we do.

And the bridesmaids, well, waiting with the lamps is not something they do often. A wedding was cause for amazing celebration and it was not an everyday thing. So they were not old hands at it. But what about us? Are we ready? And more to the point, are we ready for what is really coming? They are not all glory- end times will not just be us all rising up in a happy party wearing gleaming white robes. It will mean death for many who are not saved. It will mean realizing that our mate, our child, our friend or neighbor is not with us. Our first reading from Amos sounds scary and it is absolutely meant to be. Amos is reminding the people that the end that they are crying out for is not the Disney movie version that is full of sweet singing birds and lovely happy endings, rather the Brother’s Grimm version- harsh, real, and full of deadly dangers. And in all honesty, the malaise we tend toward as modern Christians when it comes to the return of Christ is pretty prevalent. We have prettied it up and really think “not me.”

I wonder if we do that because it is scary to wait for the unknown. The bridesmaids were waiting in the dark. Now I don’t know about you, but I can tell you the dark in Riverside is NOT the same as the dark in a place with no light pollution. It is SO dark. And if you have ever been in that kind of dark, you know, it can be scary. My dad’s unit relied on that. They played on it in fact. Their motto for the unit was “Death Waits in the Dark” because you cannot see evil and danger coming for you.

Well as we wait for Christ, I wonder, did we become so afraid of what was out there in the dark that we had to immerse ourselves in a story that lets us separate from reality and fear? A coping mechanism for what we did not know and could not imagine?

These are dark times my friends. These are dark times because so many feel left out and isolated. Our schedules are crazy, expectations to commit more, more, more are high and even our techonology which is supposed to make things easier ends up making us give up more free time. We are so alone that we find ourselves caught up in our identities so that we can claim we belong somewhere, anywhere.  Identities caught up in which country we are from, which team we root for, which school we went to, or even which service we were drafted or joined. We even hear the bridesmaids stories and we identify immediately with the wise bridesmaids (didn’t we?). We do this in defensiveness- a desire to be on the winning side but more importantly to belong. This past month has been difficult for me for that very reason. Having moved so many times, I am acutely aware that I am always the new person who does’nt know the “ways” things are done. I work my rear off trying to find out the history, the customs, the traditions and habits, always scared to death to make a wrong move because I just want to belong too. I am sure you can relate

Our Veterans learn this lesson in the harshest way- no matter how deep their allegiance to our nation, we end up letting them down when they need us the most. They belonged when it was convenient for us, but now they wait for months for essential medical care, they are dismissed when they return home, they are noticed when it makes others feel good, and the rest of the time, they are a problem we don’t want to see or pay for.  We love to see them in uniforms and thank them by paying for lunch when we see them at a restaurant, but we look away when the visual evidence of their sacrifice is in front of us. No one wants to see or know just how many service members are saved in war today, because then we have to look at and pay for their broken, maimed, disfigured bodies and minds. We lose 22 Veterans a DAY to suicide because they have lost hope- because they are alone in the dark and there is no one there to share their oil until the bridegroom comes.

Veterans day is about celebrating those who served, but today is Sunday, now is worship and now is the time for us to ask how the Gospel of Christ leads and feeds us to manage in our world and circumstance. Maybe my dad’s unit is right. Death does wait in the dark. When those bridesmaids were not allowed into the home, they were left locked out in the wild with no protection. When our Veterans, our lonely, our grieving, our sick have been left in the dark by us- they have been locked out by our society because we do not have enough extra for them.

But there is good news my friends, in the midst of all that bad news, pain, lonliness, and law. The Good news has already come and there is a light that does not run out of oil. This come to Jesus talk is for all of us, me included.   Beloved, our identity is not in our team, our school, our nation or even our church. It is in Christ. Those others are lovely and create community, but they are not what saves us in the dark. Our true identity is safe in Christ- we are on the winning side. Without Christ, we are in darkness-all those other identities and allegiances mean nothing and will not save our soul or grant us peace.

As part of that identity in Christ, we are called to care for the least of these. That is what being prepared is all about. We are not supposed to be like either of the sets of bridemaids. We should not be so proud that we run off to get oil so we are not ridiculed for not doing our job well- because we will be kept out for our pride. But we also should not be so wise that we only ever care only for ourselves. Wisdom is not the same as kindness. Look to our lives and think ahead, think of another and prepare for their hard times so that we may assist them.

We do have enough oil. In fact, we don’t know if the bridesmaids who did not share actually did not have enough to do so. They just said so. And I think of our world and how easy it is to say, I don’t have enough to share or I will run out too.

But Christ is the oil in our lamps my friends. There is hope, as our Thessalonians reading reminds us, there is light for those who struggle with depression, addiction, PTSD and more. There is new life for those who are dead in their hearts and they will be raised up with Christ too. There is ENOUGH and we do not need to be afraid.

There is so much my friends- so very much- we can share and share generously because Christ first shared with us and his light is unending. Our job is to share that bounty and light with those who have none, just as Christ did for us.

Christ is Coming, beloved.

Be ready, and do not be afraid to wait in the dark, because hope waits in the dark too. In Christ, death has no sting and hope and the light of Christ will always overcome.

 

 

 

People are Strange- first sermon for Hope (Nov 3, 2017)

“People Are Strange”
People are strange when you’re a stranger
Faces look ugly when you’re alone
Women seem wicked when you’re unwanted
Streets are uneven when you’re down

When you’re strange
Faces come out of the rain
When you’re strange
No one remembers your name
When you’re strange
When you’re strange
When you’re strange

 

It is hard to be a stranger, wouldn’t you agree? It is odd for me, a stranger to many of you, to begin my first sermon with these lyrics, but if you will permit me this idiosyncrasy, I believe you will find that they are a beautiful complement to our lectionary for today.

Everyone has been a stranger at some time. And each of us have experienced what it is to feel out of place, out of tune and out of rhythm; to not look or act like everyone else did, to not speak the language, or know the customs of the place we were. It is lonely and scary and exciting and full of potential.

So when Christ had so many folks (strangers) around him that he had to walk up a mount to be heard, I think he could have been thinking what Jim Morrison and Robby Krieger immortalized in these lyrics for Rock and Roll. In Matthew’s Beatitudes Christ looks around him and realizes he is surrounded by strangers- all of whom are also strangers to one another. And as Jesus always seems to notice the underside of every situation, the side we rarely pay attention to, he walked up to a high point and sat down and began to share the famous beatitudes. It might have started off with these words ”When you are a stranger, there is no solace.” and continued,

“When you are a stranger, there is no solace, and blessed are those poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

As he continued, Christ reflected for all who would hear the sorrows and hardships of this world. And it can be frustrating to read, especially when we are in that moment ourselves. How can the poor have anything? How can the grieving be comforted? How can the hungry and thirsty be filled? In our world, the reality is the hungry get hungrier and words of blessing do not fill a growling tummy. Grieving hearts are given a timer. When the timer goes off, the world seems to cry the words of the food channel competitions: “Time’s up. Step away.” And we are to act as though our grief is now complete. But grief doesn’t play by those rules, does it? So we are left with these kind and generous sounding “platitudes” and the subsequent burning question: How then can these circumstances that are so heavy and hard possibly be blessed?

The answer may be in our 1 John reading: “what will be has not yet been made known.” Is it possible that the way the Beatitudes will be made real is not here, but in the everlasting with God? A Colleague wrote a blog about this, entitled, “Mazel Tov! You are suffering!” In it he ponders the Buddhist observation of suffering; one where acknowledging suffering can lead to a place where suffering can end. In other words, a leaning into the suffering so well that we fall through the other side, into the waiting arms of God.. What if John really has it figured out? What if the Beatitudes of suffering and pain are about the possible that we don’t know yet; the blessing that “is” already and not yet? You see, if the beatitudes are blessing, and the heart of being blessed is the recognition of God as God, those who focus their lives on God and value that relationship with God are thus blessed. They find the blessing by leaning into the covenantal relationship itself- by leaning into the pain and trusting that God is there as God has promised

 

If so, then John is reminding us that within that promise, our future is wide open and it is full of possibilities. It is full of new and strange things that we cannot know yet and it is full of strangers from so many places and spaces. In fact, it points to the reading from Revelation today, to the great multitude who are gathered before the throne. A multitude of strangers who do not look like, speak like, or even eat what we do. An innumerable crowd of people with skin of every hue and languages we cannot understand. A crowd of strangers who are not really so strange at all.  A crowd of Saints.

 

And there it is… the Saints, the strangers and not so strange who inspire us. The known and unknown of history and even our community today to whom the beatitudes are an implicit imperative to live consistently with God’s justice. Saints because they chose to “do” something. I have heard many times that the biggest regret of every dying person is not what they did, but what they left undone. And our saints, they chose to do. They saw the world of hurt that Christ speaks of in the Beatitudes and they chose to do something about it now- to bless and lift up humanity here and now in this place, in this day and age.

Not because they were earning a way to heaven, since we can’t, or because they had to do it to pay Christ back (how would that look anyway?) they are good Lutheran’s whether they realize it or not, (we can claim them, right?) but they do these things, live this life of implicit imperative because they were and are confident in their role as God’s beloved. As such, they trusted that no matter what they put their hand to, God would still love them- even if what they did was scary and strange and they totally messed it up. They didn’t earn their way into that great throng of humanity in the Revelation text, Jesus Christ did that for us.

 

We celebrate All Saints not just to honor the ones gone before us and also around us, but also to learn from them, to remind ourselves that we too, should be living this implicit imperative of Christ. So why don’t we? I think we often choose not to do things because they are new and strange, or that we may mess it up. Being a stranger, doing strange things, it does not feel connecting, it does not feel sustaining and comforting. Yet we need to remember that we are not strangers, not really. John reminds us of this; “dear friends, NOW we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known, but we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him.” You see, we are not strange, we are not strangers- when we lean into this baptismal promise of Christ for us, we are then the heirs, the children of our God and even when we feel like we are so different, we are already becoming like Christ himself.

You see, when you are known, you cannot be a stranger. And to be known, you must get out there and know others first. It is scary. It is hard. And it is blessed work because God doesn’t forget us, and we can cling to the promise that we are God’s beloved children even in the midst of the unknown. Yes indeed, the lyrics had it right- partially. Faces do seem wicked when you’re unwanted, but they were also wrong. Someone does remember your name, our God in heaven has written your name among the list of saints, your robe is washed in baptismal waters and your name is called out- known among the multitude and most importantly, by Christ, who lived and died for you, for your sins, for your life, so that you might be known.

In Christ, we join the multitude, our names are on the roles, we are no longer a stranger in a strange land, but a child of the God most high, part of the biggest family you can imagine and we are not alone. We can lean into the hard stuff of life because our God is with us. Never Again will we hunger, never again will we thirst, for the Lamb is our Shepherd who brings us to springs of living water and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.   Amen.

 

 

Restore us O God; Advent 1 December 3, 2017

Restore us O God, let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved.’

In those days the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light.”

 We hear these words and the first emotion that rises up is fear. We cannot imagine not having light. We put nightlights in our house and on our streets. We surround ourselves with light and with even the best curtains, it seems even the digital clocks will still pierce the darkest room as we try to sleep. We are so surrounded by light that we don’t even realize how little we can see the dark until we are in a rare place without light polution.

People spend the day sun worshipping and the evenings dancing.

Barbara Brown Taylor is one of my favorite preachers and wrote the book, “Learning to walk in the dark.” Until I read that book, I have to admit that there were more than a few times the dark scared me. Like Taylor, as young woman I was not afraid of the dark, enjoying my fair share of sneaking out for midnight walks in the crisp and clear night air of Julian- not too far from here, but far enough not to have light pollution. To me, it was never really that dark I always had the stars to light by way- it always seemed my dirty white tennis shoes were a beacon to getting caught as they appeared to glow supernaturally in the star and moonlight.

As I grew older, I began to fear the dark and nearly succumbed to the modern tendency to put a nightlight in my children’s rooms. When I would walk to Los Angeles County hospital in the wee hours of night, alone on my way to an emergency chaplain’s page, I recall feeling safe in the belly of old General Hospital even though it was vacant but once outside, the night seemed ominous and scary. I had become afraid of the dark.   Then I read Barbara’s book and began to remember my joy and comfort in the dark of my youth. With some pondering, I the truth of her words: dark itself is nothing to be afraid of, rather, it is the dark inside us that we fear the most. When we hear the idea of the end times being in the dark, I wonder, are we more afraid of what is in the dark or what we will face when we are alone with ourselves?

Restore us O God, let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved.

This is the first Sunday of Advent- four weeks where we recall and practice what our ancestors’ did- a waiting for the Christ child- for salvation and hope. For four hundred years the Israelites waited for a prophet- a time of silence and spiritual darkness- a time to sit, wait, and reflect upon their own lives and God’s promises. It was hard, but it was not bad. Like that 400 year wait, Advent is the living between times. Only now we await second coming of Christ and still no different from Israelites, our time of waiting in the dark hours is a time to stay awake and alert to our own spiritual health and wellness.

For the Corinthian church that Paul writes to in today’s missive, it was a hard time as well. Christ had died and they were trying to figure out which way to go, how to live out this calling and following of Christ. They were not doing a great job either. They struggled and bickered, deeply divided and each side convinced they were right. Paul understood they were afraid and struggling and he writes in a positive assumptive position of comfort, reminding them that they can make it through this hard time, and they have been enriched by God in every way.   Paul reminds the church of Corinth that they will be strengthened and God is ever faithful and present through Christ and the Holy Spirit. And while not every word Paul wrote is appropriate for our time and application, this remains steadfast and true.

Restore us O God, let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved.

God began with the darkness, in the darkness. In fact, light wasn’t even the first thing God created. God revelled in the dark and was not afraid- finding the desire to grow and create and nurture within it. We too, should not be afraid of the dark. Darkness has its role. In it we are forced to remain still or to move carefully and slowly if we try to walk in it. In the dark, we find rest. Our bodies are reminded to be still, to allow God and the nature of the universe to heal us, to rejuvenate and restore us. In the dark, we can see things we never notice in the day- the shape and color and even reflections that are missing in the brilliance of the sun. The dark and the light dance for us but all too often today, we are so accustomed to constant light that we have become afraid of the dark.

Because we cannot see ahead while we wait, we can examine our own self, our own sin and our departure from what God desires for us. Our world is scary. Broader communication leaves us more aware of how broken the world is around us and how hard living is. We are more aware that life is one difficult circumstance after another and it is obvious that God does not guarantee us a life free of pain and sorrow. It is enough to make us cry out and we can. Isaiah shows us what it looks like to yell at God and to hold God accountable to God’s own promises in our lives.

Restore us O God, let your face shine upon us, and we shall be saved.

As I waited for first call and time continued as it does, I began to doubt myself. I began to doubt those around me who told me that I was a solid candidate. I wondered aloud to a friend if I was so solid, why am I still not pastoring yet? His words? Maybe it isn’t about you. Maybe it is about God and God’s promises? He reminded me that I needed to get over myself and remember that this is God’s call and promise and that it was fair to call God out. But it seemed presumptuous to me to call out God. Over the next 3 weeks 2 more friends would echo the sentiment, unbidden. One even shared that when he was in similar circumstance he packed a bag and set it by the door then he got down on his knees and he prayed. He reminded God that he was ready to go and it was all up to God to tell him when and where. A short time later he received his call.

Author Ellie Wiesel writes in The Trial Of God about how three Jewish rabbi’s called God to trial over failed promises to Gods own people during the holocaust. It was written based on his real life experience. It was the most faithful response imaginable- to trust that God made promises and that we can look at God and recall the promises of God, too. Isaiah 64 does just that. Well my husband wanted a good book to read and I recommended the book to him even as I realized the significance of yet another reminder of holding God accountable. I had a lot of unfinished things in my life- unfinished art, unfinished projects around the house, even things we needed to do to prepare the rental to be returned. I finally got the message and after some prayer, I realized I was not ready. I spent the next month finishing things so that I could be ready to go, too. And daily I would hold God accountable and say, “See God? I am getting ready to go. Are you preparing my call? “ Within the week, I was in conversations with the call committee of Hope and the moment I read the congregational profile, I knew this was it. I had called God out and God had responded because while I am not always faithful and ready, God is.

Restore us O God, let your face shine upon us and we shall be saved.

Advent’s texts give us a voice for our brokenness and failure to be faithful as we wait. They also give us the promise of a savior. We are headed into a new year of texts now and Mark will be the Gospel we walk with. His words are full of apocalyptic visions just like Matthew, but the difference is that there is a strong mix of encouragement and hope among Mark’s words. Yes, he shares that the end times will be scary. But he also reminds us that we will see evidence of Christ and his promise all around us if we sit still and pay attention. He promises us that Christ is coming.   Layered with Pauls’ promises that we will be equipped and Isaiah’s reminder that God is faithful, we can know without a doubt that as we wait in the dark, God comes to us and remains with us through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

While we sit through Advent we are reminded that God is our light and is present not outside of us and our lives, but inside of us. Do not be afraid of the dark. It is a holy place. In the dark we are able to clearly see the light of Christ present with us. Salvation is at hand.

Restore us O God, let your face shine upon us and we shall be saved.

 

 

 

 

 

How Can I cry out if I can’t Breathe;Advent 2 (December 10, 2017)

I cannot cry out if I cannot breathe.A voice will cry in the wilderness, prepare the way.

 

Of Course, Mark is describing John the Baptist. Have you ever wondered though, why he was crying out in the wilderness? Why wasn’t he preaching and teaching in the temple and cities? Wasn’t it counter-productive to do so from the wilds? Who would hear him crying out in the wilderness anyway?

 

Thanks to the other Gospels, we know more about John. I think today we hear that he wore camelhair and ate locusts and honey and just think that people did weird things back then. But even for his own time, John was, well, weird. He was a nonconformist- a subversive- an activist. Not too unlike his cousin who would come after him.

 

So it is no wonder that he was in the wilderness. We have a way of looking at the people who do not look, act, eat, or speak like us and making them feel unwelcome. If they are connected to issues that cause problems and upset the status quo, we quickly blame them for their own circumstance and distance ourselves, so that we will not be pulled into their mess. We push them off to the sides, to the places where we will not have to notice them, to the other side of the street, the tracks, the border and if necessary, to prison so we don’t have to face their differences and the issues they bring up that make us uncomfortable. We send them to the wilderness and we silence their voice among us.

 

The fires have left me breathless this past week. Many of you also have a cough, a tickle, a little stuff in your throat. For me, it has activated my asthma. And when I was asked if I could do a one day response for the Red Cross, I had to decline. In the end, deciding I could not risk my breathe. Because if I cannot breathe, how can I speak? If I cannot speak, how can I share the truth of God’s love.

 

And that got me thinking about our Gospel today and why we only ever seem to hear the truth cried out from the wilderness, from the outer edges and un-centered places? Why don’t we hear these voices of truth everyday among us? And I realized that the voices of truth are already among us, but we have silenced them. They are breathless and cannot cry out.

 

They are the women silenced and scared by the actions of men and power brokers who left them with no recourse but to put up and shut up. Who kept their silence and were blamed and manipulated by shame. If only the women like Bathsheba and Dinah had a #metoo movement to encourage them.

 

They are the babes left on beaches, drowned as they attempt to escape certain death while powerful men make decisions on who can live where. Men who will wipe out an entire generation of male children for their own political purposes and control. I wonder if the mothers of Syria think of the mothers who buried their babes because of King Herod?

 

They are the ones who don’t fit our laws of what right looks like, men in women’s clothes and bodies, dark-skinned or dreadlock wearing, upright citizens who just want to live and let live, who are precious children of God and are ignored when beaten, and left to die under the baton or on the road to Damascus. I wonder if the gay, brown skinned, or Hindi speaking person attacked for just living take their last breathes wonder where their good Samaritan is.

 

We hear their stories and turn away- they make us uncomfortable and we focus our anger on the person who takes the picture of the dead child rather than on the person responsible for circumstance that led to his running for his life. We hear of the women who speak truth of the Matt Lauer’s and Garrison Keilors of the world and our responses tend to be wondering if it is the truth why did they wait so long or upset that our favorite voices and faces are gone because someone had to make a “fuss”. Anger at our our discomfort rather than the fact a woman was violated and felt she had no recourse until now when a groundswell of others are gaining courage because they now know they do not stand alone.

 

We take their breathe and value when we tell a black man that if he just follows the law and the directions of the officer he will be fine. Because the truth is and video after video reveal in stunning proof, that it won’t be fine.

We steal the breath of every victim who tries to cry out every time we question them and doubt them in order to make ourselves more comfortable that we loved or lived among a place where a perpetrator also lived.

 

It is no wonder that John called the religious folks a brood of vipers. We are dangerous to be among.

 

The voices are among us- with truth to be told, with the message of Christ in their stories, in their faces, in their very breath. And until we give them space to be heard, protection to speak, support to share the difficult parts and love to heal the gaping wounds from which they cry, they will be breathless and thus, speechless. We will not hear their cry and we will not prepare the way.

 

Christ came and put himself in a place of speechless breathe- he began his life gasping for air so that he too might cry out in our world. And he did- he cried out in the temples and he cried out in the desert. He cried out above the wind and waves and he cried out over death. He used his very breathe to fight the centered set, the ones who would tell him he was a problem maker and that he just needed to tone it down a little or maybe tell his story in a way people could hear instead of causing so much turmoil. And when he would not play by the rules, when he continued to speak the truth and use his privilege and breath to cry out for the least of these, to cry out and share the Gospel of God’s love for every human being and a promise of salvation for the small cost of faith alone, they nailed him to a cross where the death is one of suffocation- where the very breathe is taken even as he yet lived. And in his last breathe, he cried out one last time to beg God in heaven to forgive us for failing to hear.

 

Advent is our time to wait and ponder, to prepare the way beginning with our own hearts. I wonder, are we willing to ponder our role in taking the very breath from the voices of truth among us? Can we commit to protecting the breathe of our savior and his message among us? Will we stand side by side to protect an innocent who simply wants to live and breathe? Will we put on the itchy camel hair coat and let our hearts and spirits live in the discomfort of honesty and truth so that we too might hear the voice crying out and prepare the way for the Lord?

 

It will be uncomfortable. It isn’t easy to hear and walk with the voices of truth,. It isn’t comfortable to speak the truth. It isn’t popular to be different and stand for what right looks like. But it is what our Savior did for us and what in our loving response, we should do in return. Christ did not come to a young girl in an illegitimate way to make us uncomfortable. He came in poverty and humility to remind us of our own.

 

The voice in the wilderness does not just break the silence- it shatters it. It cries out from broken hearts, broken bodies and broken spirits.

 

Will you be humbled and give breath to the voice that needs to cry out here and now, among us? Will you call the one in from the wilderness and give them shelter, comfort, and love? Will you hear their story and love them as Christ did for you? Will you prepare the way?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reconciling the Hero and the Harmer

“Pastor, how are we to respond?  Yet another of our heros has fallen to sexual misconduct or abuse!”

   “We are trying to reconcile the man we knew him to be

with his unacceptable behavior we now have become aware of.”

(Today Show, November 29, 2017).

******* TRIGGER WARNING*********
(Sexual misconduct+children)
 
My grandfather (paternal) was a kind man to me. He was gentle, sang, and played the organ, he snuck me hard candies and spoke Norwegian to me.  He taught me to love music, woodwork, and cars. He lived a Christian life and spoke of God with regularity.  He was like this with all of his grandchildren. 
My grandfather (same one) also molested me as a child. He molested other family members, too. Many in the family knew but my brother did not until he was nearly an adult. As he and my father flew home to my grandfather’s funeral, my dad told him my story so that he would not be caught off guard. I also think Dad still held anger that his own father had done that to his little girl and was struggling with going to a funeral to hear all nice things about someone who had broken an innocent child.  
The hardest part for my brother was reconciling the grandfather he had experienced with the one I experienced. I remind him regularly that our grandfather’s actions with me that were unacceptable do not undo the good he did. Each act stands alone. His good behavior did not excuse his bad behavior- but neither should his bad behavior erase the good. I remind him that it is ok to remember our grandfather with love and fondness because that is the authentic memory he has. He need not bear my anger, pain, or brokenness, even though I welcome him comforting me and holding me in it as I continue to grow and heal from it.  
I am not excusing my grandfather.   I am not justifying, supporting, or protecting him. I am a woman who has gone through deep healing and I now see clearly through waters that seemed impossible to move through once. In that clarity I see a broken man who broke others. I also see a man who tried to live right and sometimes failed. I pray that he found forgiveness before death- I pray that he reconciled himself. I myself, have reconciled that I can remember him with love and smiles of the good things that he did for ALL the grandchildren.
There is no sacred place from this kind of trauma.  Our news now fills our living rooms with story after story of sexual misconduct and abuse.  The more stories we hear, the harder it gets to make sense of the person we thought we knew through media or even personal experience with one who could do such things.  
But there is this- when we are ready, when we have caught our breathe- we can turn this over to God.  God heals and judges.  God comforts and chastens.  God is with us- and with them.  And God cares and loves until we can once more.  I for one, am grateful that in the years of anger and distress that followed when I was unable to forgive or heal, God was with my grandfather just as God was with me.   And I thank God for that because it is a difficult struggle to reconcile the harmer and the hero.

 

Parts and Pieces in Context- Nov 25, 2017

Jesus demands social justice for the least of these.

We just moved- most of you know that.. I am not new to this- I have done it many times and I have learned more than a few tricks to make it easier. And still it happens- someone takes apart an item in our house, doesn’t write down the steps or take pictures, doesn’t put the parts in a bag or doesn’t label the bag and then, of course, the bag may not even be taped to the item- getting dumped either in the garbage or into a pile of chaos that we have to sort out on the other end.

Inevitably, I find myself with parts and no idea how they function or what they even go to. My mind ends up with all kinds of possibilities as I set it aside until we end up needing the missing piece when voila- it suddenly makes sense. The intent becomes clear with the need to understand and the right context. I spoke last week about the importance of context- well Matthew sure drives this lesson home for us once again.

This year I have felt pretty beaten up by the Matthew gospel. I don’t know if it is me, current events application or just that Matthew really likes to use the threat of punishment as motivation.  Regardless, as we stand here on this final Sunday of the Church year, imagining what it will be like with Christ as King, I am really just hoping Matthew got it all wrong- because I don’t want a King who threatens me to make me behave. I keep hoping, like with my furniture, that a little context and instruction might help me with how this scripture reveals God.

Yet it seems, for too long of a time, Christianity has taught and relied upon that angry God- one very different than the one Jesus speaks of. Jesus tells us to love our enemies, but the Angry God smites them. Jesus tells us to forgive our enemies seventy time seven, but the Angry God smashes them. Jesus speaks of a loving father, but the Angry God throws people into a burning pit for eternity for failing to care for one homeless person.

This angry God seems to have become the one most of us were exposed to and raised to believe in; To our own spiritual detriment. It isn’t anything new of course, Martin Luther was taught the Angry God mythology, too and yet even after the Reformation, the myth remains, larger than life- in fact, seeming to rule our lives. We hear of the new generations of “nones” those who fill in the religion blank with the response, “none.” and wonder what happened- but we seem unwilling to recognize that this may be a huge culprit. It is unthinkable to imagine wanting to spend eternity with a big mean jerk who is vindictive and cruel. Why would you want to spend even an hour in silence, solitude, or intimacy with such a god, let alone eternity?

We’ve developed an unworkable and toxic image of God that a healthy person would never trust and faith and toxicity are bad dance partners. Faith is a mystical unexplainable dance and the mystical, transformative journey cannot take place until that image of an angry God is dismantled.

It is easy to see how this passage from Matthew immediately feels like a bludgeon wielded by this angry God. The historical idea and use places a higher value on Christian performance over attitude or faith. And this passage becomes the goad once again to keep us in line. But what good is a Reformation anniversary if it doesn’t cause us to examine our roots?   As Lutherans this angry God doesn’t fit when we read this and there is no room for faith in the passage. Since we rarely question scripture and whether it is missing something important, it leaves us questioning ourselves. Well folks, if we just read this passage, then yes, something is missing something. The rest of the book has to be read in context with this passage. The parable discourse of Matthew closes out the book of Matthew and scholars argue the parables of Matthew are Jesus’ verbal punishment of Israel for their rejection. He tried to share the truth gently and they ignored him. It feels harsh and it is. But it does not represent Christ or God alone anymore than a mother’s scolding an errant child in the grocery store is representative of how she always interacts with her child.

And just like needing a label for the random parts of my household, we need clarity at times from Christ. He has spent several years sharing stories of God and trying to let people see the truth gently but so many ignore him or only take him in as a spectacle. Finally, fed up, Jesus is making his points absolutely clear in the parables- stories that will illustrate how serious this is.  He breaks it down and labels it all using the language of the people and streets in stories that they can relate to. It is very harsh, but if he didn’t make it absolutely clear, someone would inevitably come along argue that he wasn’t clear about the rules of the game and would avoid the reality. He is really bringing home the whole point of his life and death for them before he goes. Jesus is making powerful contrasting statements when he describes the separation of sheep and goats, but he does explain them with compassion when he reminds them “whatever you did for the least of these you did for me.”

Christ in Matthew’s gospel is showing how Love is the answer and sometimes love means confrontation. In this harsh parable, Jesus is demanding social justice in the most traditional of ways, steeped in Jewish law of economic justice that favors the poor and needy. He is reminding us that God’s preference is and always has been for the needy and poor. We need that confrontation- that reminder that the love of God happens beyond our reach and even beyond our labels and it is more expansive than we can ever imagine, including the ones we often even fail to see. We need reminded that we do not have favor and a free pass just because we know Christ, rather, we are instead called to more because of it. When you come to my home as a guest, you are welcomed and I have few expectations of you. But when you are part of the family, close friends who are chosen family of the heart, there are additional expectations- as part of the family you help clear the table and wash dishes, you may even take out the trash or vacuum up. We are the children of God through Christ now. We are no longer the guests, instead we are the family and we are called to the deep love of Christ our King here and now- to participate relationally with God’s creation, as children of that King- heirs of the throne and thus responsible for the care and nurture of the kingdom alongside our Savior.

He is reminding us there is no wealth or religious preference. We all participate and we all stand equal at the judgment . And we also stand equally loved. That can be easy to miss. Love can get buried in fear if we let it. The good news is that Matthew’s reading isn’t actually about fear and punishment, it clearly points back to a loving Christ who is saying as plainly as possible that the pain of being judged and separated like goats is not necessary- that Love can heal; and love can provide; and love can save. Only Love matters- and faith exists because of that love- Christ’s great love. Matthew is declaring for us that Love is never anonymous- it is always wrapped up in the participation of Christ’s love for the world- whether we call it that or not. Every time a hungry mouth is fed, every time a shivering or sunburnt body is covered, we are participating in Christ’s love and in turn, his kingdom.

Our God could be that angry God. Yes. But I don’t think so. This parable is not one of fear- but of desperate, deep, and abiding love. Christ has come and given us the instruction manual and reminded us that our God is a God of love- who desperately wants us and wants to be in deep and intimate relationship with us- risking everything to achieve that. Only in desperation will there be the end with separation- and Christ has clearly shown us that this is not necessary. It is hard to care for the other- the unknown is always hard. But our faith that is fed in relationship with Christ through the Holy Spirit gives us strength and even the desire to do the things that seem scary and against the pull of the world. And we do not do it alone. Christ remains with us, prodding and loving, a good king, a kind king, a forgiving king, already involved in the kingdom to come by already coming to us here and now.

 

 

We forget ourselves… Thanks-Giving

In the beginning of our history for this country the Pilgrims came to worship God freely. They sought a place safe from tyranny and persecution. They weren’t asking for much, just their lives and freedom to worship God.

So they fled , the hunted seeking shelter and a new home. They came to these shores, the strangers in a new land, unequipped and unprepared. It took the welcome of the people who were here first to help them survive. They needed that welcome and they received it gratefully.

It seems though that they were only grateful for so long. Once they learned how to do for themselves they declared this nation their own gift, theirs to own and conquer and they forgot themselves, their hosts, and their thankfulness. Not unlike the Israelites in the desert creating their own golden calf to worship. They pushed out the very ones who helped them, who welcomed them, who fought for their lives with them. The hunted became the hunters. They forgot themselves and the gifts given and they turned God into their bully as they waged wars in belief that this land was theirs to pillage and rape.

The mustard seed did not remain a seed. It was changed- broken open and gave up its life, as it was, to become something new. Our history of Thanksgiving and the ugliness that followed is uncomfortable and seems to be all around us these days- as though we cannot deny it any longer. I believe just like the mustard seed, our nation has an opportunity in this new era of awareness to give up our life to become something new. We have an opportunity to return to right thankfulness, a thanks giving that recognizes that what we have is not ours, but is God’s and that we are simply stewards of it. We have a chance to offer apology by choosing to honor the hard stewardship lessons our native brothers and sisters can teach us even today. We can begin to care for the land we are on, not as ours personally but ours shared for these generations as well as those to come. We have a chance to be different from other nations and instead of putting up walls, we can tear them down. Instead of keeping refugees who seek a safe place to live and sleep out of this land, we can learn from the welcome our ancestors received and we can give life by letting them in, too. We can deny the ugly heritage but only when we refuse to live into the story anymore will the true change be wrought.

Native American people believed that there was plenty for all- they did not live in fear of us, we taught them that fear. But beloved, our God is not a god of scarcity. Our God is a god of bounty and plenty. Our God is a god of fields of flowing grain and rivers of crystal waters, our God is THE God of plenty where there is always enough and more to share.

This year, I urge us to remember ourselves. Remember our God. Remember that we can be broken open to become something new and offer life to others in doing so, just as our Savior did on the cross. Remember that we do not need to hoard what is around us, but open it up to share. So, open your homes, open your wallets, open your cupboards, open your hearts, and open your lives. Do not be afraid, be instead be thankful, truly offering up all we have and are to our God. Be the mustard seed and let God break you open this Thanksgiving.   Let us become new, for in Christ, we are always being made new. Amen.