Saturday, August 1, 2015

Our Wanton Wants: A Sermon for Proper 13B on John 6:25-35

The 19th Century Irish author, playwright and poet Oscar Wilde said, “There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.” The Disney version of this is “be careful what you wish, what you wish may come true.” Of all the things that torture us so much from within its our wants. I can remember being once being asked in a coaching context, “What do you want.” This question drove me nuts! I couldn’t answer the question because I was so tortured by the many possibilities of what my answer could be. Our wants are the pressure on the accelerator of our lives. Our wants make us go, but yet our wants rarely coincide with what we really need. What we don’t know about ourselves is that we don’t know what we don’t know. This makes us crazy and this makes us do and say silly things. Our scene from John’s Gospel demonstrates what I’m talking about here. Do you remember what happened in last week’s Gospel reading? Last week we heard the story of the feeding of the multitude complete with the gathering up of leftovers. This was followed by the disciples getting into a boat, encountering a storm, followed by Jesus appearing to them walking on the sea saying “do not be afraid.” The three verses that follow, verses 22-24 in John chapter 6, aren’t included in our lection for today that picks up in verse 25. But let me read them to you now: “The next day the crowd that had stayed on the other side of the sea (where the feeding happened) saw that there had been only one boat there. They also saw that Jesus had not got into the boat with his disciples, but that his disciples had gone away alone. Then some boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.” So, the crowd that had been fed noticed that Jesus was gone, but they knew he didn’t leave in a boat because they saw the disciples leave in a boat without them and there weren’t any other boats there! Then the “Capernaum Express” shows up, a popular boat-for-hire service in Galilee, and the people (the fed people) that were now on the hunt for Jesus get in it and go to Capernaum. Everybody knows that Capernaum is the HQ for Jesus’ ministry, and these people certainly knew this. When they get to Capernaum they actually find him, and this is where our lection for today joins in (John 6:25), “Rabbi, when did you get here?” And Jesus says, “Oh about six-six-thirty.” No. Have you ever known Jesus to answer a question straight up? Jesus was a master deflector. Now for us, when we do this kind of deflecting its because WE have something to hide. Jesus did it because he knew what was in people’s hearts. Here’s my paraphrase of what Jesus tells them: “Hey I know why you’re here. You’re here because you got free food yesterday and today is another day and you’re hungry again. Well let me tell you, that kind of food doesn’t last. If you’re going to all the trouble to get food, get the food that will fill you up for good! This is what I can give and keep on giving to you because that’s just what I came to do.” The crowd responds with, “Oh okay, so you’re not going to give us more food; well, can you show us how to make food magically appear, that would be nice!” Jesus’ response is “Oy vay, Lord have mercy. God isn’t in the business of giving you miraculous powers, God is in the business of giving you the faith so you can believe in me the one he has sent, that’s the miraculous power you need!” “Okay then, what miracle can you show us to really seal the deal? Moses gave us manna in the wilderness, can you do any better than that?” “Okay, first of all, it wasn’t Moses who sent the bread from heaven, it was God. And second, God is giving bread for the whole world, not just you, your ancestors and your ethnic tribe.” “Bread that never ends? Yes, that’s what we want a lifetime supply of bread!” Then we have Jesus’ final pithy saying, “I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never be hungry.” What this dialogue demonstrates is that the questions we have, the concerns that we hold so dear, because we make what WE want the determining factor in ALL our requests, are so, so small compared to the bigness of what God wants to give us. Jesus Christ comes TO us AS the grace of God calling us beyond our limited perspective and OUT OF our limited patterns of living. God’s gift to us is true transformation that empowers us to live into the fullness of life that is God’s real intention for our lives. When we get fixated on our wants, when we get obsessed with what WE think we need, when we make ourselves sick with all sorts of stress and hypertension in the realm of striving in the work-a-day world, beware not to lose sight of what God is truly trying to give us. Let your relationship with Jesus transform your expectations, let your life with God impact your life in the world in such a way that we can look beyond our wants. Did you ever notice that the Lord’s Prayer never says anything about asking God for what we want, what we’re voicing is what we need. Jesus knew this and that’s why he taught this prayer to the disciples. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” “Give us this day our daily bread.” “Forgive us our trespasses.” “Lead us not . . .but deliver us . . .” Lots of things happen to us on a daily basis, or we hear a news story that we react to with, “Oh that’s not good.” I invite you to try again. Respond to your life and the circumstances of it with something beyond the question of “Is this what I want?” with “What is God doing in this FOR me?” It’s not easy but it is transformational. And the transformation game is what we are baptized into. What it all boils down to is this: What do YOU want from Jesus? Be careful because what he wants to give you goes way beyond what you can ask or imagine. Be ready for it. It may not be something that you’re used to, but you know what, that’s a good sign that it IS from God. Now to him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you blameless in the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, through Jesus Christ Our Lord, be glory majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen.

The Lord of History versus Tragedy: A Sermon for Proper 10B on Mark 6:14-29 and Ephesians 1:3-14

One of the most foundational truisms about our Christian faith that has its roots firmly planted in the religion of Israel, is that our God, the One who simply IS, the One who created “ALL that is” is the lord of history. Now, being the lord of history doesn’t mean that God is the big puppet-master in the sky pulling our strings and making us say and do things against our will. What being lord of history means is that God ALWAYS and INEVITABLY finds a way to transform whatever is happening into something which ultimately glorifies God. The challenging thing about this truism is that there is so much that is happening in the world that we perceive as totally wrong. How many racially motivated killings do we have to hear about before we get that people in our society still want to blame someone else for THEIR problems? When a young blonde-haired man of 21 sat in on a Bible study group in an AME church (an historically black denomination) in Charleston, SC some 3 weeks ago, he, about an hour into it, pulled out a .45-caliber handgun and started killing people. He was quoted as saying that this was something he “had to do” because they were “raping our women and taking over the country.” Please understand, he was not accusing Bible-studying church-going Christians of such atrocities, he was pointing a finger at a race not his own. We see this and ask: Where’s God in that? If our God is the lord of history who transforms everything that happens in our lives into the plan that we then look back on and call the “divine” plan, why can’t God do something to stop something like this to begin with? Aren’t people safe even in their own Church? These are the questions that come to us, either from outside ourselves or inside our own brains. This is where we live. This is the apologetic question that we as Christians have to deal with. And if we’re not careful it will drive us mad. Today’s Gospel text from Mark 6 dealing with the bizarre death of John the Baptist is clearly one of those texts in our scripture that are so detailed in its retelling that it just HAD to have happened just like it says—not to mention the fact that the Jewish historian Josephus also tells us of this incident. By the way, it is Josephus who tells us that the name of the daughter of Herodias is Salome (and yes, that’s the same Salome that Richard Strauss’s opera about this incident is named). It is clear that Mark is using this story of John the Baptist to reinforce his story of how John was the forerunner of Christ even up to and including the fact that his death foreshadows Jesus’ death. Remember how Jesus’ death was also the result of a feeble ersatz “ruler” of the Jews (namely Pilate) appointed by Rome whose only motivation is to “keep face” in light of what he feared? You see, whenever tragedy occurs in Scripture, like in life, the answer that comes forth is hardly ever to the question we are asking. What we find ourselves asking is “Why?” And ultimately that leads us to asking questions that point fingers beyond ourselves, ostensibly to God. “You could have prevented this; You had the power to intervene and stop this from happening but you didn’t!” Our plaintiff cries pour forth like water out of a spilled bucket. Some of us pacify ourselves with “Well, God DID give us free will, and we don’t always use that to the best end.” And there is a ton of truth to that. But there’s a million tons of truth to the reality that our God revealed in Jesus Christ IS the lord of history and just doesn’t operate like OUR puppet, in fact our God doesn’t operate like anyone’s puppet. You can’t transform the world if all you’re doing is going around stopping bad things from happening. That’s why we created superheroes like Superman and Wonder Woman, and Spider-Man and the Incredibles. Our God is not in the business of being our pet super hero that looks out for us and keeps bad things from happening, that is something that reality teaches us just isn’t the case. We wish that this was the case but its just not. The fact of the matter is: No matter how good we are and how much we go to church and go to Bible study, there is no insurance policy preventing a wacko from killing innocent people. Our God can only deal with us how we are and where we are and that is in a state of “will we ever get it right?” The answer is “No, we will never get it right, that’s why we have God.” We can’t save ourselves by any good deeds or great intentions. Our God, as revealed in Jesus Christ is not some “Plan B” that comes along to save the day. Our God, as revealed in Jesus Christ, is the one who fully experiences the pain and suffering that life has to give us and still continues to love and love and love despite the hurt and the hard-heartedness of humanity—that’s what we see in the cross! Nadine Collier, the daughter of 70-year old Ethel Lance, who was attending and was gunned down at the Bible Study at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston offered a glimpse into where the power of God truly resides in tragedies such as these. At a bond hearing after the massacre, relatives of the victims offered this young assailant something that he never knew he needed. Nadine said to him referring to her late mother that is guy had killed, “You took something very precious away from me, but I forgive you.” You want to see the power of God? You want to see something that will restore your faith in the lord of history? That, right there, is the power of God. The power of God transforms our experiences; it doesn’t prevent us from HAVING the experiences especially when the experiences lie in the realm of tragedy like this killing. Forgiveness, as Jesus taught us, looks a lot like going to the cross and not having it defeat us. Are we informed by these “bad” things that happen to “good” people? Yes, yes we are. And it invites us to look for things we can do in the realm of public policy to prevent things like this from happening, and you know what? God’s hand is in THAT! You see, our God as revealed in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ IS the lord of history. This God is YOUR God. You have THIS God available to you, personally, relatedly and for all time. This is OUR legacy. This is our Good News. Did you hear what Paul said in Ephesians chapter 1? “With all wisdom and insight God has made known to us the mystery of the Divine will, according to God’s good pleasure that God set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people, to the praise of his glory.” In Jesus’ name. . .

Faith Action: A Sermon for Proper 8B on Mark 5:21-43

At the heart of our inauthenticity in life is our attachment to our ego-self. The ego self is that part of us that we think is actually who we are. The ego-self is the striving self, the reaching self, the painful-trying-to-attain-something self that tends to define and thereby limit who we are. It is that thing that is frequently the determining factor in choices we make: where we go to school, where we spend our money, where we buy a house, what to major in in college, what job to take, who we marry, where we send our kids to school, where we get our groceries, is it going to be Albertson’s or Whole Foods? Don’t get me wrong, our ego selves do a lot of wonderful things like motivate us to get out of bed when we don’t feel like it just so we can go to work, because, afterall, we need to pay the bills. One of the huge things that gets dealt with in the pursuit of clerical Holy Orders is this issue of what part of this person is seeking ordination? Is it the self that wants to step into the morass of the spiritual neediness of humanity and be used of God to play a role in being a part of the solution, or is it the self that wants the social affirmation (very important for the ego-self) that comes with holding titles like Reverend or Father. I was taught by my dad to never take at face value any person of authority—whether it is determined by the color of their skin or the accent in their speaking or the money in their bank account—also, that no title before or initials after someone’s name makes a person respectable. All of our ego-driven accomplishments count for naught when it comes to receiving what Jesus has to give us. In our Gospel lection today from Mark chapter 5 we witness Jesus doing that thing that Jesus does so well, which is restore to wholeness anything and anyone that is less than. The people that come to him are paradigmatic of a way of being that answers the question, “How do I optimally position myself to get what Jesus is giving?” In Mark’s economy of presenting Jesus, this particular passage describing the healing of the hemorrhaging woman and the reviving of Jairus’ daughter asks us to identify with the ones being healed, and making requests, regardless of our gender. I hope you noticed how Mark masterfully takes one event, the requesting of the leader of the synagogue regarding his near dead daughter, divides it up and puts the healing of the hemorrhaging woman between the first and second halves. Such intercalation on the part of Mark serves to highlight the drama of what is happening here. The passage starts off with Jesus making another crossing of the Sea of Galilee, this time, from Gentile territory to the Jewish side. We know it is the Jewish side because amongst the crowd was one Jairus, a local synagogue chief. He requests of Jesus, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her so that she may be made well, and live.” Jesus consents and starts to go WITH Jairus toward his home; but meanwhile, this crowd that had gathered around Jesus, of which Jairus was one, starts to detain their progress to the point that another person in the crowd who, like Jairus, also wants healing from Jesus. But this one is not a distinguished religious leader, this one is a woman who is on the periphery of religious life because of her infirmity of incessant bleeding. The ancient religious world was squeamish about blood and just made it bad and wrong. Mark is very keen on highlighting the degree to which this woman’s life had been consumed by her disease. She had spent all that she had, to all sorts of physicians but instead of getting better she had only gotten worse. We know her infirmity hadn’t affected her hearing though, because she was well aware of Jesus’ ability to heal. She didn’t get to make a request of Jesus like Jairus had done, she only had her intention—to touch even his garment—and because her intention was wrapped in faith she received the healing she had sought. It’s interesting that when Jesus asks the woman to identify herself he calls her, “daughter,” which kind of reminds us, oh yeh, he was on his way to help Jairus’ daughter. So immediately after addressing her as “daughter,” and saying to her, “Your faith has made you well; go in peace,” news comes that the daughter he was on his way to heal, had died. This is better suspense than you’ll find in a Hitchcock flick. And then a bit of humor, “No need to trouble the Teacher any further, that little girl that you loved so much, dead!” What Jesus says in response to this is best translated in a way that indicates he is still in control of the situation, and it sounds a little like this, “Oh pish posh.” Well maybe not, but really: “Why can’t you be like this woman in the crowd that just got healed, do not fear, only believe.” And we’re not surprised when he then revives the little girl from death. This death to life “wondrous deed” of Jesus is Mark’s equivalent of John’s “raising of Lazarus” story. What we are supposed to get out of this death to life episode is that the healing Jesus brings comes from outside our expectations but inside our faith. It all comes down to what I was saying earlier about our ego selves. Our ego selves will stop us from taking action when action is the only thing a situation calls for. The despondent woman didn’t let her living inside her condition get to her to the point that she stopped having faith. She didn’t even think she had to make a request; she had faith that just making contact would be enough, and it was. Jairus knew that his high and lofty position didn’t make him immune to life’s exigencies when he makes his request of Jesus to come heal his daughter. One thing we all struggle with is our inauthentic expression of who we are in life called our ego-self, but there is also that side of us that is full of hope and faith and we all have IT too. That is the part of us that moves us to get in touch with God, to reach out, literally, sometimes, for help. Nurture this part of your self. Love it. Feed it. It is what will have you feel connected to God and to others. It is what will have you rejoicing that “your faith has made you well.” To the only wise God our Savior be glory, majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever, amen.

Placing the Calm: A Sermon for Proper 7B on Mark 4:35-41

When I was growing up in Nebraska and Kansas in the 60’s and 70’s I was fortunate to have my Dad AND Mom in the same household. And when I pulled out of the driveway in Dad’s Cadillac Sedan de Ville from Hiawatha, Kansas with my suitcases full and headed off to college when I was 18 years old, Dad and Mom were still together. It wasn’t until the summer after my Freshman year that that all changed. I knew people whose parents had split up but I was always comforted by the thought that MY parents would be different. I even remember Dad promising us all, “Your mother and I will never divorce!” Well, they did. And that doesn’t speak ill of them, but certainly points to my personal myopia as a kid growing up in the Midwest. I remember this impacting me in many ways but one time in a blubbering tearful outburst I cried to my Mom, “Why can’t things just be like they were?” In a conversation with Mom after that I found out some things that I had never known. First of all, things, were never really as great as I had thought they were between my parents. My idealized remembrances of how life was growing up was strongly altered by my ego-based concerns that sounded a little bit like, “I don’t have the problems other people do.” “Oh, divorce and absent Dads? Those are ‘other people’ problems. I will grow up with the kind of family that God intended for humanity and will therefore make me into the superior man, indeed, the superior human.” Indeed, what I had put at stake was MY personal egoic concerns. I was all caught up in what this meant for ME and MY future and I can remember never giving a thought to how this impacted Dad or Mom or my sisters. I’m comforted, though, when we see passages in the Gospel like we read today from Mark chapter 4. A few details need to be pointed out here in order for us to get the full impact of this “Calming of the Stormy Sea” passage. The first detail to note is that it was Jesus’ idea that they go out and cross to the other side and this other side was “the other side.” It was where the gentiles, the unwashed masses lived, on the east side of the Jordan River. One of the things that Mark addresses in his Gospel is the issue of “leadership” in the church. As the first gospel written, 30 years or so after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, Mark addresses concerns in the early church called, “What do we do now that we don’t have our leader, really?” “What is the church supposed to be, really?” And, “To whom do we minister?” The early church thought that what is was supposed to be was a bunch of Jews who knew their Messiah had come, until they realized that they weren’t in the majority on that one. They found themselves leaving the synagogue and going out into the world to become a separate entity. You see, they had this picture of how things were supposed to be in their lives and all that happened to fit into this picture up till now. Now they were forced with forging a new identity with new purpose and vision, even a new mythos in the world. So, yes, I AM comforted by this story because it fits the context of my life and how I felt when my idealized picture of what my family WAS, finally deteriorated. So what happens when you are going somewhere beyond the Jordan? Yes, storms WILL arise; you can count on it. This is called normal. You know what else you can count on? Jesus will be there, (indeed, Jesus IS THERE) and not just be there like “frantic like you are” be there. I mean be there like, he’s in the boat in the stormy sea resting on a pillow and it’s going to seem like I’ve got to wake him up in order to get some action. This is the drama of our lives, folks. MY perspective is always the drama I AM in! The disciples said to Jesus: “Teacher, don’t you care if we perish?” “And he awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still’!” “And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.” In my conversation with Dad after the divorce, after I had sorted out what it was I wanted to say about what I was feeling, I was finally able to communicate. I told Dad that I had seen him and I as lock-step partners in showing the world what a real man was like, how a real man treats a woman, how a real man of God WAS in the world. We had held the banner of Christ together and it felt now like that has ended. And I was at peace. You see, the storm always precedes the calm. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, during calm times that what it is IS the calm BEFORE the storm. What scripture teaches us is that life and what happens to us and around us and in the face of our best laid plans and ideals based on our ego, all of it is the storm BEFORE the calm. And the calm only happens when we let Jesus be Jesus. And what this story teaches us is that when we let Jesus be Jesus, Jesus looks a lot our Creator, God. One of the things we like to hold on to as Christians is our image of God that is “super” natural. We get so caught up in our problems that we think they are somehow beyond solving in the “natural” realm, but in reality they are ONLY natural. We act and think as though the natural world were one thing and God is another, but then we are reminded about what scripture teaches us that our God is the Creator of what we call natural, so therefore God is God of all. Calming the sea is what you do when you have on your resume the Genesis Creation Story of well, calming the sea by separating it with a firmament and having dry land appear, etcetera. What I came to terms with in my upbringing was this, “Being overly attached to how I think my life SHOULD go, is MY problem.” God never promises us a life free from problems. What we are promised is a life full of love and calm but only AFTER the inevitable storm again and again and again. To the only wise God our Savior, be glory, majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever, Amen.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Taking the Lid Off It--A Sermon for Pentecost 2015 (Year B) on John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Of the very few kitchen skills that I possess, I am fortunate to count “boiling water” as one of them. It was important for me to boil water since at a young age I discovered how much I loved macaroni and cheese, oatmeal, rice, cream of wheat, and as you may know you have to boil water to make all of those things. Even during my early adult years while in seminary I lived on Ramen Noodles, which also required boiling water. My mom taught me that the best way to get the water to boil faster is to put a lid on the pot. You don’t have to be Bill Nye “the science guy” to know that putting a lid on it kept the heat from escaping so the extra hot steam vapor would help bring the remaining water to that lovely rolling boil stage. In our study of Mark’s Gospel on Bible Study Wednesdays and we’ve seen a pattern in Jesus’ ministry where he seems to be telling people to “put a lid on it.” Early on he heals a man with leprosy and tells him, “Don’t tell anyone about this.” Later he heals a dying girl and he orders the witnesses “not to tell anyone what had happened.” Even the demons that he was exorcising who knew who Jesus was, on more than one occasion, “would not let them speak.” It’s almost annoying the degree to which Jesus, during his earthly ministry, would go about doing all the wonderful things he did and then tell people to “put a lid on it.” So, today is Pentecost Sunday. Yes we’ve made it to Day 50 everyone! The Church’s Great 50 Days, day One of which was Easter Sunday leads up to today Pentecost Day with red and orange flames of fire and the great commotion that happened in Jerusalem 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection. Don’t get me wrong, the resurrection was a huge deal! But, if you’ll hearken back to Pastor Susan’s Easter sermon 50 days ago, we were still left with—at the conclusion of Mark’s Gospel anyway—the women “not saying nothing to nobody.” Even the women who witnessed the resurrection “kept a lid on it.” Well, today we get to complete the end of “keeping a lid on it.” Pentecost is the day when the lid comes off, and it’s a realization of a huge promise that Jesus makes in Mark, somewhat cryptically, but which John in his Gospel is even clearer about. In our Gospel lection from John 15 & 16 we flashback to things Jesus said that Mark didn’t tell us. Jesus promised he would send us an Advocate, in Greek it is the word “Paraclete,” which means literally “to call alongside of.” The word can be translated also as Counselor or Comforter. Later Jesus calls it the Spirit of Truth and the promise . . . is that this presence will sidle up to us. The idea being that we in our earthly journey will never be alone through thick and thin, through good times and bad times. Wow. So you’re just meandering along living your life like you know how to live it, making choices that seem right, good, even advantageous for you, your family and your kids. Some things turn out well, some things turn out not so well, some things turn out horribly wrong, and a few things are just a disaster. Our tendency with the things that turn out well is to either take way too much credit, hurting ourselves trying to pat ourselves on the back, or even worse, thinking we just got lucky. People will congratulate you and you will just brush it off and not let it in at all until it passes. When things turn out not so well, or wrong or even a disaster we tend to take way too much of the blame. We tend to second-guess ourselves and we regress into that world of “should’ve would’ve and could’ve.” “Oh, if only I had done this, or that or the other thing, things would have turned out differently.” This sends us off into a world of regret and despondency, sadness and bitterness. We’ve met these people, some of us in the mirror; and they’re described as cranky, bitter, or mean. Jesus knew this would happen. Jesus knew what was in the hearts of all people. Jesus knew that we would fall back on our losing ways. Our losing ways are the ways we know best. Jesus knew that we wouldn’t stay present to the reality of the wonder of what he made possible for us in the resurrection. So this is why we have the presence of this Powerful Holy Spirit. Please don’t confuse the Spirit that Jesus promises with what people call “being spiritual” today. I’m sure many of you have heard about the surveys that cite people’s preference to call themselves “spiritual” but not “religious?” This is not what Jesus was pointing to. Jesus’ promise of the Spirit of Truth is the promise of God’s presence immediate to us AT ALL times and IN ALL places. It’s that corny “footprints in the sand” quote in spades! God, I wish it weren’t but it is! The promise of the Paraclete, this abiding presence of God that never leaves us is always available to us, and we don’t have to know any magic words or incantations to invoke the presence of this manifestation of God. The Spirit of Truth is the “always there-ness” of God. Jesus’ words are the answer to the eternal question of “where’s God when . . . ?” And we always ask this question when things go wrong! “Asked and answered, your honor.” Yes, it has been, and thanks be to God! Where is God when you make the right choices? Right beside you. Where is God when things don’t turn out so well? Right beside you. Where is god when things turn out wrong? Right beside you. Where is God when things go disastrously horribly wrong? Yes, right beside us all. Remember it was the tragedy of the cross that God used to bring us all salvation! This is the logic of God, that there is nothing that can’t be transformed, even the worst of the worst. Our lives are filled with how God is actively doing this right now, and if we would only get present to it we couldn’t stop sharing. So today, Pentecost Day, is the day we get to complete the end of “keeping a lid on it.” The lid was just there to help things along so we get to the good part even sooner. There’s nothing we have to hold under our hats and keep a secret when it comes to talking about God’s wonderful deeds. In fact your joy will be made complete in your sharing of yourself and the blessings of God in your life. Let your loved ones know, let your friends know, let people you have casual conversations with know what God is powerfully doing for you and in your life. Yes, take the lid off! God has done way too much good for us to keep it in, so don’t. Like the first believers we have so, so much of God’s wondrous deeds to talk about. Let this be your conversation, let this be your life . . . to the only wise God our Savior, Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and power, for ever and ever. Amen.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Getting Source--A Sermon for Easter 5B on John 15:1-8

Happy 29th Day of Easter! Have you ever wondered how we got here today with what we do for Sunday church from this band of a few witnesses to Christ’s resurrection in such an insignificant part of the world? For the original disciples you’ve got to think that every Sunday, which they didn’t call Sunday (they called it “the Lord’s Day) was like this—they would gather together just like we’re doing. And these were good Jewish people who hadn’t intended on being anything in their life except Jewish. It wasn’t long till they were referred to as “Christians” but they didn’t call themselves that, it was more of an accusation than it was a religion. A new religion was the last thing on their mind. With the preaching and witness of Peter, Thomas, Mark, Stephen and Paul this new “way” was found to be quite appealing by lots and lots of people, especially people who were not and could not be Jewish. This breath of fresh air that earliest Christianity was, wasn’t concerned with deciding who was “in” and who was “out” of heaven. It didn’t deal with questions like, “who does God love more” or “which people are God’s people now?” The simple message of “He is risen” gave hope to the hopeless of every economic strata, because the truth is: It doesn’t matter how much money you make, you’ve got problems that are just simply common to human being. No matter how bad you may think you have it, I can guarantee you that you’re problems aren’t either new OR exclusive. Christianity became the great equalizing religion. It was so welcoming to all peoples without discrimination as to ethnicity or social status it began to take on a life of its own and flourish, it spilled out of it’s parochial corner of the world in ancient Palestine and caught on in the wider Greek and Roman world. The farther this new movement stretched beyond their origins, the more dependent they became on the teachings of the source. That’s why the Gospels got written down, they didn’t want to lose the stories of the master teacher. When we encounter John’s Gospel reading today, we hear a Jesus addressing concerns that the 1st Century church would actually be dealing with, namely “How do you stay true to what was started?” There’s a distinction in the world called “Source.” Source is that thing that we find ourselves constantly trying to reconnect with in order to be who we are created to be. One expression you hear in life is “finding yourself.” And we associate this a lot with the contrary hippie generation of the 60’s or “new agers” of the 80’s and 90’s. Clint Black seems to have summed it up quite nicely in his Country-Western hit single from 1994 which said simply, “No matter where you go, there you are.” Well, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to us, and I’m not asserting that Clint Black was channeling Jesus or anything like that, but I’m sure that our gospel reading of the vine and the branches contained the truth of this expression in the 1st Century of Christianity. This could just mean that Clint Black paid attention in Sunday School. You don’t have to be a specialist in vine horticulture to get what Jesus is talking about. We here in Scottsdale AZ don’t have the kind of knowledge in this area as would, say, a congregation in Napa Valley, but we can certainly get his point. Oh, and this is an allegory, by the way. And in this allegory the master vine-grower is God the Father and the vine is God the Son, manifested in Jesus, and the church, indeed individual members of the church, are the branches that emanate from the vine. What we do a lot of the time with allegory is bring low-level questions to it. Low-level questions reflect a base tribal mentality which wants to know “Who’s in and who’s out.” Or, “Who does God love more and who are God’s people, really?” But these aren’t the questions that the story is intended to answer. Christ’s concern is for us to get what our Source is—what, or better who, is actually feeding us—from where or whom we get our nourishment—how do we show up in the world as a result of being sourced in this way by God in Christ. Jesus is making the point that WE ARE sourced by God in Christ. Any of those “good works” that we do, they aren’t ours they’re God’s. The truth is that our source, the source that makes us distinctly the body of Christ in this world, is God and that God is at work in us, even through our contrariness. And did you pick up on this little gem? “Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit?” Yes, Christian, you can expect to be pruned by God, you want to be pruned by God. This is what starts with our baptism. At baptism you are grafted onto the true vine and from that point on God is AT work in you molding you into the image of his Son. You can expect, sometimes painful, but always necessary, pruning. When we are sourced by God as the vine, we can expect to be pruned. Pruning is a funny thing because it looks like something is being removed but in reality what is happening is a space is being made that can be refilled by something even better. Have you ever viewed painful experiences in your life or in the world around us as God’s pruning? It takes some spiritual moxie to figure out when this is happening. Most of the time when something painful happens to us we tend to think of it as “no way can this be good.” “No way is this loss a necessary thing to allow for more growth.” But guess what, who is the vine grower and who is the vine? Well okay. The losses, the pain, the setbacks that we experience in this day and age, because you are a branch of the vine which IS Christ you can rest assured. Your alternative is to think of yourself as producing nothing and then you get to be something else that’s powerful in a different way, fuel for fire. The final promise, “ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Is not God’s promise to be a celestial vending machine. It is God’s promise once again that what God is doing in you IS HIS doing. We can’t claim any of the credit. The Source never moves outside of God, we don’t EVER presume upon this God. Jesus finished by saying, “My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples." Please get that the Church is improving on our cynicism—it was true in the 1st Century and its true now. We have beaten back the cynicism of “Whatever will be will be” with “It will be what God WANTS to be.” We have conquered “It is what it is” with “Alleluia, Christ is risen, . . . The Lord is risen, indeed.” And this makes all the difference in the world.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Really Good News--A Sermon for Easter 2B

We all know that Easter Sunday was last week. But let us take a moment to remind ourselves of one very important liturgical fact. Today is not the 2nd Sunday AFTER Easter. Today is the 2nd Sunday OF Easter. Whereas Christmas has its own season—12 days worth, of which, Chrismas Day is the 1st day—Easter has ITS own season lasting 50 Days, of which Easter Sunday is the 1st day. The church calls Easter “The Great 50 Days.” Last Sunday was the 1st day of Easter. Pentecost Day will be the 50th day. Yes, 7 weeks of Easter is what we get. And, it doesn’t mean you have to party like a rock star because you gave up so much during Lent, but it DOES mean you get a whole lot of ‘basking-in-the-glory-of-the-resurrection’ time. Someone should have told the 10 disciples we encounter in today’s lection from John chapter 20. When we find them, they are huddled behind a closed door, John tells us, “for fear of the Jews.” Now, fear makes us do really stupid things. What did the disciples fear? I don’t know. John says they feared the Jews, but I think that is just code for, “If it could happen to Jesus guess who could be next?” What is the ONE thing that we fear the most that makes US do really stupid things? In the afterglow of the resurrection we should feel that the answer is kind of a no-brainer. As human beings, we do a lot of stupid things because we fear DEATH. One of the most insightful lines of dialogue on this topic in all of history (at least the history of Wayne’s favorite Top Five movies of all time) comes from that late 80s romantic comedy “Moonstruck.” Remember the scene? Rose’s husband is a philanderer. He’s been playing around and cheating on his wife for quite some time now. So Rose is dining with her would-be son-in-law, Johnny Cammereri, and asks him: "Why would a man want more than one woman?" Johnny says, "I don't know, because he fears death?" Rose responds with "That's it!" Johnny protests with "I don't know!" But Rose insists with, "No that’s it. Thank you for answering my question." The fear of death DOES make us do funny things, even stupid things, things that hurt people, things that hurt ourselves, things that cost a lot of money, things that cost us love. Who doesn’t love the Thomas episode in John, right? It’s a classic! We’re all familiar with it. Jesus appears to the disciples and shows that his resurrected self is the self-same crucified self. But, for whatever reason, Thomas wasn’t there. When Thomas DOES get there he says, “Well, I’ll believe, but only if I get to see the same thing that you did.” Later he gets just what he desires and ends up proclaiming to the risen Christ, “My Lord and My God.” I think the major point of the episode is something we usually miss. The Thomas episode teaches us truism: “Christ is risen whether you believe it or not.” That is to say, the reality of the resurrection doesn’t depend on your being convinced. It doesn’t matter what “your opinion” of it is. The only way “your opinion” would matter is if that changes reality. And it doesn’t. The thing that makes the most difference in your life isn’t human opinion about what God did or didn’t do through Jesus of Nazareth. The whole interaction between Jesus and the ten disciples and Thomas is John’s way of presenting a truth that abides not in the realm of “if you believe” but rather “whether you believe or not.” Christ IS risen. You can’t change that fact by your personal belief. But you know what your personal belief DOES impact? You know what really DOES change when you invest your faith in it?—just your experience of EVERYthing. God didn’t send us Christ to give us something to believe in so much as he gave us something to simply “be.” One of the things that we need to keep continually in front of us is that Jesus didn’t come to build a better mouse-trap. Jesus didn’t come to “improve on” what the ancient religious world had to offer in the realm of God-experiences. Jesus came to break through that barrier that stops YOU and you and you and you—Jesus came to explode that ultimate end called death. Do you realize how motivated you are, how silly you become, how downright foolish you act because of the fact that you’re going to die? The Apostle Thomas gets, at the core of his being, the “who” of God’s Christ. Thomas’ confession is a statement of his ontological being. Thomas is our living example of “getting” all what we today need to “get” regarding who Christ is and the reality of the resurrection. Thomas’ reaction of “My Lord and my God” is a humble confession not of being sorry for doubting, as if that were wrong (its not wrong) but having the audacity to think that his opinion, based on his experiences really mattered to the truth of Christ’s resurrection. The story doesn’t tell us that he actually touched the nail prints or the sword wound. He SAID that’s what he needed to do in order to believe. And the resurrected Christ totally gave Thomas permission to “do what he had to do.” But the scripture does NOT say that Thomas actually did it. And I don’t think he did. I think that Thomas was simply so confronted and overwhelmed with the presence of the living Lord that he didn’t need his little request to be fulfilled. Don’t take away from this whole interaction, “Don’t be like Thomas.” What you want to take away is, “By all means, be like Thomas and get that your opinion and your demands and your ‘need to know’ this or that or why things happen the way they do, all of this, makes no difference. What makes a difference is what you be. Thomas’ confession wasn’t a credo, it was a statement which recognized ultimately whose he was. “My Lord and my God.” The good news here is that we can be freed from our own egocentrism our own ideologies that imprison us. Our faith, our Christian faith, doesn’ t rest in a personal experience or a national allegiance that we need to be “convinced of,” our faith rests in the reality, the in-this-world-REALITY that the risen Christ is the same crucified Christ, that life and death aren’t separate experiences. That’s something WE made up. Listen, all the post-resurrection appearances of Christ introduce us to the reality that death is now incorporated into our life. Death isn’t anything that anybody needs to be afraid of, let alone be the thing that has us do stupid things. Death is intermingled with life, as that next thing and the next thing and the next thing. Death isn’t the end of ANYthing anymore. This is the place where our Christian hope resides! “O death where is your victory, O death where is your sting?” I’ll give you a hint, it ain’t no where to be found, only in the power of our fearful minds, and that, my friends, is what got beat back by the resurrection. Now, THAT’S something worthy of celebrating for 50 days. Now isn’t that good news? Happy 8th day of Easter everybody. Alleluia, Christ is Risen!