Monday, February 27, 2012

Monday Prayer: For Healthy Appetites

Give me a good digestion, Lord
And also something to digest. 
Give me a healthy body, Lord, 
With a sense to keep it at its best. 
Give me a healthy mind, good Lord, 
To keep the pure and good in sight, 
Which, seeing sins, is not appalled, 
But finds a way to set it right. 
Give me a mind that is not bored, 
That does not whimper, whine or sigh. 
Don't let me worry overmuch
About the fussy thing called "I". 
Give me a sense of humor, Lord, 
Give me the grace to see a joke, 
To get some happiness in life, 
And pass it on to other folk. 

- Sir Thomas More (1478-1535) 

Braybrooke, Marcus. 1000 World Prayers. John Hunt Publishing Ltd, Hampshire, UK. 2000. p. 140 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Not a Metaphor (Sermon for Lent 1)

Lent 1 (Year B, Narrative Lectionary)

26 February 2012

Mark 10:17-31

            One of the keys to reading, understanding, pondering, and obeying the written word of God, the Bible, is being able to tell the difference between what is a metaphor and what is not.

Jesus is the Lamb of God= metaphor
Render unto Caesar= not metaphor
The four horsemen of the apocalypse= metaphor
Love your neighbor as yourself= not metaphor

            As a rabbi, a teacher, Jesus is excellent at using metaphors and stories to catch the attention of his audience and to help them view God and God’s expectations in a new way. Consider Jesus' use of the lost coin, lost sheep, and lost son (Prodigal son) to illustrate God's desire for restoration and healed relationships with creation. 

            Jesus can work a metaphor. However, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” is not a metaphor. Since the 1200s, when the priest of the Catholic Church realized it was better NOT to anger the wealthy patrons who were keeping the church open and growing bigger and bigger, people have tried all kinds of ways to make this a metaphor. You can read commentaries that talk about the “Eye of the Needle” gate around Jerusalem that was either so low that camels had to get onto their knees to enter it OR it had a sharp curve in it, to make it more difficult for caravans and attackers to enter, and camels had difficulty with the tight turn.

            The truth is, Jesus meant exactly what he said. People who own lots of stuff can easily become owed by that stuff. Your god is that one which you hang your heart and your stuff can easily consume you and become your focus, your god. When that happens, you are missing out on the kingdom of God at hand and you potentially endangering your ability to appreciate the kingdom that is to come.

            Notice that Jesus looks that the young man and loves him. Jesus sees how hard he is trying and Jesus loves him too much to let him stay like he is… mastered by his possessions. “Sell all you have and give it to the poor” is hard, no matter who you are, but especially when what you have is how you define yourself and how you want others to define you.

            Let me say here that I have lots of stuff. My house is full of things that I would be very upset to lose. And I confess, while I could definitely do with fewer things, I don’t want to sell everything I own. But I don’t want it to own me. I don’t want keeping my things or using things to keep up with other people to be the focus of my life.

            Additionally, if you sold everything and gave it to the poor, what happens to you? You become dependent on the goodwill and generosity of others. This is Jesus’ expectation of the disciples, the people who will follow him most closely… that they will be received, treated kindly, and thus be able to spread the news of freedom in God. That kind of life depends on someone being able and willing to do that.

            Part of the distinction we have to make here is between our salvation and our sanctification. I know those are two words that aren’t usually in any kind of conversation other than the one we’re having, but stay with me. Our salvation is the Jesus AND me process, the part that happens by God’s work for all in Jesus the Christ. In Revelation, names get written into the Book of Life by Jesus and by Jesus alone. If it were up to us to get in there, it would be impossible. But as Jesus says, all things are possible for God.

            That’s salvation. Our sanctification on the other hand is about how the Spirit is shaping us now. That’s the God IN me process. Within the process of being formed in the image of God, we are granted gifts of time, resources, and talents. Everyone here is rich with those things. You may not think so, but each one of us has enough to share of at least one of those things- time, resources, or talents. And you will have to answer to how you use those things. In Revelation, that’s the second judgment- the accounting for what you did with what you were given.

            Do you have to sell everything? Maybe. Maybe not. What’s true for the rich young man may not be God’s intention or call to you. But what is true is that what you have, what I have, what we all own can get in our way. It can get in God’s way… in the way of how God is trying to change us… in the way of how God is trying to use us…

            In the season of Lent, we look toward Easter and we think a lot about how salvation was achieved. But our Lenten disciplines, what we take up or set aside, are more about sanctification, about being shaped, about living more deeply and more broadly into our faith.

            In this season of wondering and wandering, we are called to consider how we are rich, what we are doing with our riches, how we are being called to be spent for the sake of gospel freedom?

            It is very easy to be possessed by our possessions, but the result is flat, lifeless, and draining. There’s a better way… a fulfilling way… a way of abundant life… life in communion with God through Jesus the Christ.

            To whom do you belong? It’s not a rhetorical question. And the answer is not a metaphor.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Is God visible to you? (Ash Wednesday Sermon)

Ash Wednesday (Year B, Narrative Lectionary)
22 February 2012

Isaiah 58:1-17, Mark 9:30-50

            What’s the smallest unit of measure in any society? The individual… Individuals make up our families, whether by blood or choice. The solo person gets added to more solo people and then we have a group… a congregation… a town… a state… and so on. There is no such thing as a self-made individual because everyone has some help along the way. No one makes himself or herself from the ground up. What’s the smallest unit of individual? A child.

            In our society, Western society, the child is the smallest individual. When we look at children, we see the possibility of a future productive individual, so we spend our energy in shaping that person. “What about the children?” is such a central question to our way of thinking that we easily miss what Jesus is saying by using a child as an example in this gospel lesson.

            In this period (and for well beyond it and still in some parts of the world today), children were not the smallest individual unit of society. They were the smallest productive members of the smallest societal unit- the family. If you survived infancy, the relief was not only that you lived, but that now you could help out! You could sweep, run errands, change straw, watch animals, help cook… whatever was appropriate for your gender and your family’s status. And you were socially invisible. A child still didn’t count until he or she was marrying out and cost money or marrying in and bringing money. A child is a non-person, uncounted.  

            So when Jesus, sighing over the disciples’ fight about greatness, calls a child… this should get our attention. First, Jesus separates the Twelve, so there must be a larger group. Secondly, the larger group must have men and women in it because a group of only men wouldn’t have children in it. Thirdly, the children might be invisible, but they can hear and they must have known who Jesus was or heard stories about him.

When Jesus sits the Twelve down and the rest of the crowd is close enough for the Teacher to call a child over, everyone is listening. And then Jesus goes on to say, “Whoever welcomes on such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me, but the one who sent me.” A non-person, an invisible being represents Jesus, God on earth? An emissary represents his or her sender. The emissary of the king comes glittering and riding a fine horse, even if the king is struggling, because how people perceive the emissary is how they perceive the king.

            Jesus is the Divine Emissary. How Jesus is perceived (and received) is how God is perceived (and received). And here Jesus is telling the disciples (and everyone else) that in order to welcome God, you must train yourself to see what you previously treated as invisible.  Invisible like a child. Like a leper. Like a person with AIDS. Like hungry Africans. Like homeless Alaska Natives. Like a teenager with an eating disorder. Like a friend with depression. Like a lesbian or a gay man. Like a couple after a miscarriage. Like a person who goes to prison for murder. In order to welcome God, you must train yourself to see what you previously treated as invisible.

            In the season of Lent, many of us turn inward- thinking about our personal spiritual practices, our internal habits. There is nothing wrong with this. The ashes on our foreheads are also on our hearts, covering our quiet prayers, our doubts, our inward struggles. But Lent is not only about introspection. The inward reflection must be met with outward actions. Consider the words of Isaiah: Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble onself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?”

            Here’s the thing about Lenten discipline. We want to make it about God and me. God and Bob. God and Phyllis. God and Gene. Whether we set aside things that are truly in our way spiritually or whether we take up disciplines to challenge our thinking and our faith, the ultimate result shouldn’t be God and me… it should be God in me. Christ in me. Spirit in me.

            “God and me” is taken care of through Jesus the Christ. But God in me matters to the people I encounter every day. In order to welcome God, we must train ourselves to see what we previously treated as invisible. If you have ashes on your head (or on your heart), if you say you believe, if you wear a cross, if you participate in church activities of any kind… you are an emissary. What you do reflects the one who sends you. What you do reflects on Christ. On your Creator. On your Advocate. The people we miss because they are invisible to us are being denied an experience of Christ because of us. The people whom we engage with grace are having an experience of Christ because of us. Are we willing to open ourselves to greater encounters in Christ and with Christ as we walk toward resurrection?

This Lenten season, are we prepared to die, within ourselves and in our actions, to our prejudices, to our blind spots, to our fears, to our insecurities? Are you prepared to fast from injustice, from anger, from judgment, and from mistrust? Do you believe that you can close your eyes, receive the ashes- that marker of mortality, and have your eyes opened to new possibilities of grace? Are you willing to let Christ do that in you and through you?

             Even on Ash Wednesday, we are Easter people. Resurrection begins right now. You are an ambassador, an emissary for Christ, in Christ, with Christ…

            On each of these forty days, and beyond, God will be encountering you in other people. Do you see them? Do they see Christ?



Keep Me Burning

One of the things I do each week is put a fresh candle in the Eternal Lamp. I counted once and I estimate that I've already done this over 150 times. Same motions, same prayer...

No matter how many times I will do this, the thing that keeps me doing it is knowing that it's not really me keeping the flame alive.

Welcome to Lent.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Monumental Transfiguration (Sermon 2/19)

Transfiguration (NL, Year B)

19 February 2012

Mark 8:27-9:13 

            I’m going to Washington, DC at the end of March for a church conference. What should I see while I’m there? (Vietnam Memorial, Washington Monument, etc) What are those things for? They serve as markers and reminders (monuments) to events and people of the past. They help us remember things we have promised not to forget and things we might try to forget and things we truly want to remember. Monuments serve as markers for the best and worst parts of our human nature, which is part of why we build them. Other people in other countries make the same effort, showing birthplaces and homes of famous leaders, historic places of worship, sites of battles and deaths.

            Knowing how likely we are as people to erect monuments and (now) to make attempts to preserve historic locations, can we really blame Peter for his desire to build a tent on top of that mountain? After all, throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, there were many locations where people put up cairns or rock altars to commemorate God’s help or blessing. Here, on this mountaintop, Peter, James, and John have seen Moses and Elijah. (How they knew it was Moses and Elijah I have NO idea.) Literally in front of their eyes, they see the person through whom God gave the law and the foremost among the prophets.

            Not only is Peter seeing the two main heroes of Jewish faith, but he’s also seeing two people who have no monument other than their deeds. When Moses is not able to enter the Promised Land with the Israelites, he dies and is buried. They don’t carry his body with them and their motion is forward. No one knows where he is buried by the time anyone could go back to mourn him in location.

            Elijah is taken up into heaven in a whirlwind- a crash of thunder and winds that terrifies everyone who sees it. There’s no monument to Elijah. No specific place to go and contemplate his deeds. Again, the two main heroes of the Jewish faith have no monument other than their deeds.
Peter may be uncertain about what it means to believe Jesus is the Messiah, but he knows what to do if he’s seeing Moses and Elijah. Not only is this location obviously holy, but also a monument here would be helpful to so many people. What a good idea! And if they’re sticking around to build a monument, you know what they don’t have to do… head into Jerusalem. If what Jesus says about betrayal and death is true, maybe they can forestall it by working here on a monument, on booths that celebrate the revelation of Moses and Elijah.

            Then the voice comes from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him!” And with that the idea of a monument, as well as Moses and Elijah are gone, and they are there with Jesus and no one else. The disciples are still struggling, not just Peter, with what they are seeing as they travel with Jesus. They are trying to reconcile what they’ve heard their whole life with regard to the Messiah and the fact they believe… they want to believe… they’re trying to believe that God’s Anointed (Messiah) is right there with them.

            Not only is Jesus not acting in the swift justice, furious vengeance, David/Moses/Elijah hybrid that was dreamed (and maybe promised), but he’s also telling his disciples that they can’t follow him and act in that manner. In other words, they have to tear down the monuments of their expectations- the Messiah monuments in their hearts and minds- so that they can actually experience the Jesus who is right there with them. The Rock of their own imagination is stopping them from hearing the living Word, the Rock of Ages,  right there with them.

            The same thing happens to us. We have monuments… Bible translations, liturgies, denominational polity,… that we have built based on who we think Jesus is. We then get caught up in maintaining those monuments, which we interpret as right religious behavior, and forget to listen to the Living Word, to Jesus. Part of how we are to interpret Scripture, our own actions, our decision making is through the lens of Jesus- what Jesus would do and what Jesus would have you do… have us do. The monument, the marker, we build for Jesus is how we live our lives. 

            The mountain of the Transfiguration gives us a glimpse of Easter- just before we go back down the valley into the season of Lent… for the walk to Jerusalem. It may sound strange to say, but Easter becomes another monument that gets in our way… in the way of hearing the voice of Jesus. When we become intensely focused on the death and resurrection, we make just another monument of the cross and empty tomb. Another place to visit, to be moved by, and to leave.

            But listen to the voice of Jesus… we can be… we are transfigured as disciples for this life. We aren’t simply waiting for heaven, but we have the Messiah in our midst for living right now. This is a monumental advantage to a living God, to a God-with-us. We have received the Spirit so that we may be transformed and be transforming in our every day lives right now.

            Was Jesus the Son of God? Was he the Messiah? Did he walk on the earth? Does he meet us today? In essence, are God’s promises true? (Can I get an amen?)

            As part of the on-going transfiguration of our faith, we (like Peter, James, and John) have to tear down the monuments we have built to what we want Jesus to be, what we have made Jesus out to be… and allow Jesus’ voice to show us who He (and through Him, God) really is. This is part of the work of Lent- to hear and be changed by the radical power of who Jesus is… in his whole ministry. We, too, are being told to listen to the Beloved Son.

            What does Jesus say to his disciples, some of those hard words: "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” That’s not a call to monument building- to lovely memorials of stone or gardens or well-preserved houses. It’s a call to a full life, lived in the Spirit… a transfiguring life that does not leave the world the same… a life that begins the minute you and Jesus go down the mountain.


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

I'm a Religious Voter, Too!

Lately, as the primary season ramps up, I've heard the phrase "religious voters" more and more often. Usually this is shorthand for a certain type of conservative voter. Among other feelings, the phrase "religious voter" used in this way makes me angry because...

I'm a religious voter, too!

The American College of Catholic Bishops does not speak for me. Dr. James Dobson doesn't speak for me. Neither Rick Warren nor Rob Bell nor Barbara Brown Taylor speak for me. The current presiding bishop of the ELCA, Mark Hanson, (a man I respect and admire), speaks for my denomination, but does not speak for me. As a clergywoman, I would not presume to assert that I speak for those who worship within the congregation I lead with regard to most political issues. (This congregation is also full of religious voters.)

As a religious voter, I care about:

  • The health of all Americans - This means, among other things, that I have concerns about the affordability and accessibility of good healthcare for men and women. This means I believe that an ounce of preventative care is worth a million dollars worth of cure. I believe that education and information about communicable diseases, including honest information about contraction and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), is helpful and life-giving. I believe that good healthcare for women, including (but not limited to) contraceptives, pre-and-post-natal care, information about heart disease and breast health, is key to the success of all communities. This is not an inclusive list of all my healthcare concerns, but the tip of the iceberg. 
  • Food and farms- I care about the continued success of family farms, real food, and balanced eating. I have serious concerns about the continued government subsidies of the meat and dairy industries, as well as the support genetic engineering of corn and its use in non-whole foods and non-human foods. I have serious concerns about the lobbies of Con-Agra, Monsanto, and others who are cornering conversations not only about food production, but land use and seed sales to other countries. I am concerned that the gap between people who eat "whole foods" and "processed foods" grows wider every day and concerned that there are costs associated with that gap that we will pay for years to come. This is not an inclusive list of all my food and farm concerns, but the tip of the iceberg. 
  • The poor and the very poor- The gap between the haves and the have-nots is not simply about some people sharing what they have. It's about acknowledging how our communities work. How we still use phrases like "across the tracks", "in the ghettos", and "impoverished communities" as codes for racial profiling and deliberate deprivation of community resources. I'm concerned that we have decided the children of certain groups "will never be able to" ____________ and we allow those children to believe that myth. I'm concerned that we hold up certain success stories as individual commendations without pointing to the communities, teachers, pastors, counselors, social workers, family members, and others who made that individuals success possible. No one is an island. This is not an inclusive list of all my concerns about the poor and very poor, but the tip of the iceberg. 
  • Standing- I'm concerned that the government gets a say in who can be married and who cannot. I don't think the government should have a say in this. In fact, I believe the government should treat everyone who pays taxes as an individual, with no commentary or reward for other relationships. I do not think corporations are individuals, despite their tax level. I do think all tax-paying entities, individuals and corporations, would be able to give more to charities if their tax burden was decreased. Charitable organizations of all kinds do much of the work that either the government cannot (or SHOULD NOT) do efficiently or that is not done by government organizations. This is not an inclusive list of all my concerns with regard to standing and taxation, but the tip of the iceberg. 
  • Members of the military, military action, and foreign relationships- I resent the use of members of the military as pawns in campaigning. No one wants to see people who volunteered (or were volun-told) their lives for this country lack for safety in combat, struggle with mental or physical issues, or be used as guinea pigs. All of these things happen. In addition to failing to protect our current members of the military and our veterans, I would like for someone to be honest about the commitments that have been made around the world with use of our armed forces. Someone, ANYONE, go ahead and take a deep breath and start naming names of where we have people and why. Be honest and say we won't leave Korea, Japan, Eastern Europe, or close Guantanamo and say why. The secrecy and the distortion of information has to stop. Yes, I believe there are things that are important for national security, but I also believe that national security has become a code word for dishonesty and misuse of resources, fiscal, physical, and human. This is not an inclusive list of all my military and peace concerns, but the tip of the iceberg. 

I'm a religious voter, too. These are but a few of the things I think about. Is anyone interested in my vote? In my concerns? In the future of America... or do you just want to win this election? 

I want a representative (presidential, senatorial, congressional, gubernatorial, mayoral, etc.) who is actually concerned about doing the right thing. Not getting votes, being re-elected, or having a pristine legacy, but about doing the right thing for the right reasons. 

You can tell me that's what all politicians think they're doing... the right thing, but I don't believe it. I'm not saying that what I want is the right thing, but if people who were interested in serving the public, instead of revenge through policy and rhetoric, I believe our campaign cycles would look and sound very different. 

Where's my candidate?!? 

I'm a religious voter, too. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

God's Punctuation (Sermon 2/12/12)

Epiphany 6 (NL, Year B)
12 February 2012

Mark 7:1-23

            Some of you may remember George Burns and Gracie Allen. Some of you may have heard of them. Some of you may have no idea what I’m talking about. Burns and Allen were a comedy duo couple in the first half of the last (20th) century. He was the straight man to her comedy lines and they were very successful on the radio, on stage, and on television. Their television show was on from 1950- 1958. After having some heart trouble, Gracie decided to retire. George attempted the show without her for one year, but it didn’t work without Gracie. She died of a heart attack in 1964. When George went through her papers, he found a note she wrote to him, which included the line, “Never place a period where God has placed a comma.”

            Never place a period where God has placed a comma. George Burns took this reminder from his beloved that his life on earth wasn’t over yet. He went on to continue acting, directing, and writing until he died at the age of 100 in 1996, always missing Gracie, but continuing to truly live his own life. Never place a period where God has placed a comma.

            I was thinking about this phrase with regard to our text today because it is hard to know if the Pharisees thought there was a period at the end of the law or a comma. It is too easy for us to immediately make the Pharisees the villains of any gospel story in which they appear. The organ music ratchets up, “Dum dum dum”, and we practically see them holding their capes up and cackling.
            That’s not exactly the most accurate picture. What is that the Pharisees are upset about in this chapter? They are not thrilled that the disciples are not washing their hands before they eat. It’s not just that the disciples aren’t hygienic, but that they are not performing the rituals of cleanliness before eating and not just for their hands, but also their dishes, cookware, and so forth.

The Pharisees are a reform movement. (What, reformers already?!?) They are trying to help people understand and live out the written and oral laws. Why do those laws matter? As the saying goes, “cleanliness is next to godliness”. Both the written law (Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) and the oral tradition are aimed at keeping the community of the Israelites pure. When the Israelites are wandering in the desert, they have with them the Tabernacle of the Lord. This is where presence of the Lord dwelled, God’s RV if you will. The Lord is holy. The presence of the Lord is holy. Where that presence lives needs to be holy. The people who enter that presence better be holy. And it helps if the people around them are… holy. Laws about cleanliness, sacrifice, and punishment are also about keeping the community holy so that the presence of the Lord can and will remain there.

Cut to the Pharisees at the time of Jesus. Part of their mission is to help people understand and follow the myriad rules for cleanliness so that they will continue to be a holy people and, thus, so the presence (and, possibly, the favor) of the Lord will be with the Hebrew people. This does not seem quite so evil, when you consider the oppression of Rome and the long history of struggle to survive.

Then Jesus enters the picture and he touches dead people, women who are bleeding, and a leper. He eats with Gentiles and sinners of all stripes. His disciples were not chosen because of their success in Hebrew school (shul), but on their willingness to follow. Furthermore, he is teaching these disciples (and everyone else) to disregard the laws that regulate cleanliness and, thereby, holiness. This Jesus is not just a threat to the power of the Pharisees. That’s not their problem. The way they see it, he has the ability to destroy the holiness of the community by making it impossible for God to dwell with God’s people.

Where they see a period, Jesus is a comma- a place where God has broken into the story and is altering the narrative. The story is still the same, but now God is telling it through Jesus in the world.  Jesus tells the Pharisees that it is not that the laws or the traditions are wrong, but that they are going in the wrong direction. By continuing to focus on minutiae as holiness, the Pharisees are missing the forest for the trees. Is it right to allow your elderly parents to have a leaky roof because you financed a new wing to the church (synagogue)? Is it right to proudly carry your beautiful offering of birds past many hungry beggars? Is it right to have prayed a formula perfectly and then to be so proud of how much better you can do it than others? This is the point that Jesus makes to the Pharisees and that he makes to us as well.

These are some of the questions for us as individuals, as a congregation, as part of the Church catholic. Are we worried about the mechanics of our spiritual life or are we actually concerned with our own actions? Let’s say no one here has any sexual sins, thefts, murders, or unrestrained immorality on their record. That leaves greed, deceit, arrogance, envy, insults, and foolishness. If anyone here is totally free of those, I invite you come forward and take over because I may well have done two or three already this morning.

            Does how you live from day to day reflect the idea that God is still acting? In Mark, the purpose of Emmanuel… God-with-us… Jesus is to give us a deeper understanding into God’s desires and actions. But it’s not just touchy-feely, it’s a deep, gritty, too bright revelation that God is present at all times and God cares about us doing the right thing for the right reason.

            The very traditions and habits we think are helping us to live faithful lives may very well be getting in the way of living in the way God is calling us. That includes our attachment to this space, our feelings about the order of worship, formulas we’ve developed for spiritual practices, the excuses we give for not having spiritual practices… all these things can become the minutiae of holiness that prevents us, like the Pharisees, from seeing Jesus right in front of us.

            Never place a period where God has placed a comma. By embracing the idea 1) God continues to act and 2) God continues to bring us to a deeper understanding of God’s written word, we are living into the truth that we are known and loved by a living God. Through the Holy Spirit, we are called out of the distraction of details. We are called away from the habits of religiosity that can themselves become idols, gods of false hope and comfort. We are not defiled by what comes into us, but by what we do and we must be honest with ourselves about the wrongs we do. God already knows them. We are called into wholeness, into holiness with the God who made the whole world a tabernacle. We reflect the holiness of that relationship by how we treat the world around us. We are participants in this relationship, not performers hoping to get the motions right to appeal to a God who appears and disappears on a whim. We are participants in the relationship, which means our input matters. We are living with and in a living God.

            George Burns’s life wasn’t over when Gracie Allen died. There was a comma. God continued speaking through his life for over 30 more years.

            God’s presence is not limited to the tabernacle of the ancient Israelites or to physical body of Jesus. God’s presence is in the world, in every place, through the power of the Spirit. That same Spirit that continues to refresh us with deeper understanding of God’s revelation… That same Spirit continues to shape us… cleanses us… makes us holy places where God can and does dwell…

            The God of creation has not stopped creating… The God of our salvation has not stopped saving…. The God of renewal has not stopped reforming… A light still shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.

Never place a period where God has placed a comma.

God is still speaking.


** "God is still speaking" is one of the mottos of the United Church of Christ (UCC). They also quote Gracie Allen. Having recently spent sometime with UCC clergy, I've been turning over the idea in my head ever since. 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Friday Five: LOVE

Over on RevGalBlogPals, revkjarla writes:

Hey RevGals....
It's Valentine's Day on Tuesday....
Share 5 Valentines you would like to give this year, and why--
but here is the hitch, 
Can't give them G-d, Jesus, Holy Spirit...
or your mom, your beloved, your sweet child(ren)...tell us about the other amazing  beings in your life. 

Valentine the First: This one goes out to women whose labor did not goes as planned. I spent a lot of time with C-section regret, even though it was an emergency. Even at the time I knew it had to be done so that we both could (and did) live. Still, it can be hard not to feel like I failed. I didn't. Other women have this same experience or other birth scenarios that don't goes as hoped. Some women go home empty-handed for a variety of reasons. Mother's Day can be hard for all kinds of reasons, so one this day I give a free hug to all moms of all sorts, however you became a mom, whatever happened when you gave birth, however things are working out with your kid(s). 

Valentine the Second: This one goes out to people who are happy being single. This doesn't mean that they don't want to meet someone, but that they feel complete in themselves and enjoy their lives as they are already! There's something to be said for knowing who you are, where you are, and being at peace and at home in that. These people only need Singles Awareness Day inasmuch as they would like you to be aware that they are just fine. 

Valentine the Third: This one goes out to people who are into the sixth week of the diet/exercise regimen  they promised to start on New Year's! Keep it up! You're doing a great job. (Would this be you if you hadn't slipped up a little... it's okay... just keep going... you can do it... and this Valentine can be a little bit for you too.) 

Valentine the Fourth: This one is for C.C. who watches my son, along with two other children, when I'm at work four days a week. She provides entertainment, instruction, structure, and love. Her work, which she enjoys and at which she excels, makes it possible for me to do the work to which I feel called and at which I strive to excel. There are many children in the neighborhood who have been raised by her capable hands and I'm very grateful that my son gets to be one of the privileged few. 

Valentine the Fifth: This one goes out to the families of people who are in prison or other institutions. I know you think of your son/daughter/father/mother/brother/sister each day. Even if you know he or she is where he or she needs to be or has to be or rightfully should be, the separation is still difficult. You're doing the best you can.  And you are not alone. 

For all these and more, on St. Valentine's Day, this bud's for you: 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Sunday Sermon: Not Dead Yet

Epiphany 5, Narrative Lectionary B
5 February 2012

Mark 6:1-29

            I am an adventurous eater. This past Monday, in Progreso, Mexico, I walked through the town and I was in search of one of my favorite foods: ceviche. I adore the combination of raw fish, with cilantro, onions, and tomatoes, marinated in lime juice. It gives me the shivers to think about it. So there I was, with a friend, in the center of the town market, where only locals were shopping and eating. I find a stand that sells ceviche and I buy an enormous plate, with homemade taco chips and a Mexican coke. My friend is a vegetarian and wouldn’t touch my plate of citrus shrimp with a ten-foot-pole. She watches as I scoop up the first bite and put it in my mouth and roll my eyes in delight.

            As I try not to make a spectacle of myself, I tell her that I will try almost any food at least once. There are some foods the origins of which I would prefer not to know until I eat them, but I will try them. Ceviche, though, is my favorite. I know I’m rolling a large set of dice to eat raw fish in a Mexican market, but to me, the risk is worth it. (I know what bad fish tastes like and not to keep going.) I told my friend that each time I don’t get sick it makes me bolder. In truth, if I got sick, I wouldn’t stop eating ceviche, I just wouldn’t eat at the place that made me sick anymore. Each time could be the bad fish time that knocks me flat, but I’m not dead yet. (What a life motto!)

            What does this have to do with today’s reading? Think of the Jesus of Mark’s gospel- a very human Jesus who has been setting the countryside on fire with the help of the Holy Spirit. Now he comes to his hometown. On the outskirts of Nazareth, he’s probably playing the scenario in his head in which he is warmly greeted, his teachings praised and admired, his mother honored, and people he’s known for years relieved of suffering. On the other hand, his hometown is likely expecting a hero from whom they can gain enough notoriety to become a place on the map.

NAZARETH: Birthplace of the Messiah! See his carpentry! Drink from his cup! See his shul! Threads from his cloak for sale! Collect the whole set of Jesus earthenware!

            People are not impressed by his message of forgiveness of sins and his miracles of healing. They insult him by calling him referring only to his mother (“Son of Mary”) and not his father. His healings are ineffective, except for a few people whom I imagine coming to him in the middle of the night and asking for relief.

            I think Jesus is having an epiphany. This is not going to go smoothly. In his own hometown, he gets some bad fish. Does this undo his message or his mission? It doesn’t but it makes it a little harder to push forward. It becomes a little clearer that not everyone wants to hear the proclamation of the kingdom, the good news of God’s nearness, the possibility of renewal in repentance and forgiveness. Jesus goes on, despite the incident. He’s not dead yet.

            He sends out the disciples in mission as well. Something for us to remember is that the disciples are going out with good news, with a gospel message that has nothing to do with resurrection. The resurrection hasn’t happened yet, so the good news they offer is precisely about the action God is doing in the world AT THAT TIME and how people can be a part of it, through repentance, forgiveness, and healing. Their message isn’t about the afterlife, rewards, or mystery, but concrete change in present-day life.

            However, Jesus warns them, not everyone will want to hear this message. Occasionally the disciples will run into some bad fish. They are to shake off their shoes and go on. If they are not dead yet, then they are not done proclaiming.

            Then we come to a flashback. The last time we saw John the Baptizer was at the end of Chapter 1 of Mark. He was arrested. Now we learn that he was arrested because he spoke out against the marriage of Herod Antipas and Herodias. Herodias had been married to Herod’s brother, Philip, but she decided Herod was more upwardly mobile. So she divorced Philip (strike 1), married his brother (strike 2), and plotted against John the Baptizer who dared to call her on her sin (strike 3).

            The dance of her daughter might not be the sexy dance of the seven veils that we always see portrayed, but an enthusiastic demonstration of talent or nationalism by a young daughter making her father proud. Herod likely thought she would ask for a pony, but instead she consults with her mother and receives the head of John on a platter. Not exactly what Herod (or likely the daughter) had in mind.

            John got some bad fish. And it killed him. Herod could have redeemed John, but he didn’t. He could redeem his actions later when Jesus is brought before him, but he won’t have the nerve to do so then either. Herodias is a bad fish and her rot has infected her family.

            So what does this story have to do with us, besides really stretching out my ceviche metaphor?

            I hardly ever give specifics on how you should act. We are all different people, in whom the Spirit moves in different ways. The ministry to which you are called may not be the word of the Lord for me. However, I’m going to share with you how this moves me and I think it will affect you as well.

            If I

1)   am a bold eater,
2)   believe in the hope of the resurrection,
3)   trust in the presence of God in the world from day to day

then why am I not living more boldly?

Why am I timid in speaking the truth?

Why don’t I live as boldly as I would eat?

If my standard for eating is: “I’m not dead yet”, why is this not even more my standard for faithful living?

I am willing to risk my life for raw fish. Shouldn’t I be willing to do the same thing for Jesus, through whom I believe that death is not the end, but a new beginning?

Not everyone is going to hear what I am saying. Some people who hear it will not like it. However, I am not called to quietude, but full proclamation, sinning boldly, and loving Christ more boldly still.

            Now is the time! Now is the day of our salvation. Today we are sent out to proclaim the truth of God’s mercy, forgiveness, and supply to the entire world and to do it in BOLD, DRAMATIC, LOUD, LOVING ways. We are called to serve our neighbors in all kinds of ways. We hesitate and the moments are lost, but this doesn’t have to be.

            The Spirit is with us. Let us live boldly. We are not dead yet.