Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Choose This Day (Revised)

Joshua 24:1–2a, 14–18, John 6:56-69

If, in the morning, I open my eyes,
My first decision thereupon lies.

Will I continue to lie in the bed,
Allowing my thoughts to run through my head?

Will I get up and go to the shower,
Regardless of both the weather and hour?

What of the children, who may want me to play?
What of the tasks that call me this day?

From the moment of waking, there are choices to make,
What will I give this day? What will I take?

I want to be saintly, say my first thoughts are of God,
But sometimes they’re not and, in that, I’m not odd.

We may rise with the sun or maybe at noon,
And most of us promise to get with God soon.

Yet, that instant, a choice has been made-
The balance of time againstGod has been weighed. 

We can’t do it all. Surely God understands.
Did not God make this world, its chores, its demands?

But in each thing we choose, and it ischoosewe must
We have decided in which god we shall trust.

When we make decisions for work or for pleasure,
With money or time, talents or leisure,

With each small decision we leave or we make,
We all choose a god for each task’s sake.

When Joshua says, “Choose this day whom you’ll serve.
My household and I, from God we’ll not swerve.”

He means the God of justice and freedom,
The God who through the desert did lead them.

This God of providence, of mercy and manna
Compared to all others, She proved top banana.

For the Israelites, Joshua lays out a decision,
Because, in history, they’d treated God with derision.

Sometimes God seemed so far and so distant,
They struggled to find His mercy consistent.

Yet, who gave the manna? Who gave the quail?
Who brought forth the water when the people did wail?  

“People of Israel,” Joshua said,
“Turn all that you’ve known around in your head.

Think of the guidance through both day and night,
Think of God’s grace. Think of God’s might.”

The people responded, “Our choice has been made.
We’ve looked around. It’s the Lord who makes grade.

Only one God says, ‘I am who I am’
The same God who was served by our dad, Abraham.”

Israelites promised to serve God, what may come,
For richer, for poor, when happy, when glum.

The years passed, however, and memories faded.
People forgot this choice and became jaded.

The desert, the manna- they all became history.
What God’s doing now… that became mystery.

It became easier to feel freed by law and instruction,
Only community’s structure prevented destruction.

But that structure left some people wanting,
The gift of the law seemed rather daunting.

Late onto the scene, the rabbi, Jesus, appeared.
Some people rejoiced. Some people jeered.

Then, and again, he talked about bread
About life here right now andlife after we’re dead. 

He healed sick people, he fed many others,
But his teaching confused both sisters and brothers.

What was this about flesh to eat, blood to drink?
A hard teaching to swallow, most people did think.

Said his disciples, “Jesus, this is enough.
What you’re talking about- it’s too much. It’s too tough.

We don’t like it. We don’t understand.
We’d like to quit you, but it doesn’t seem that we can.

We’ve looked around as to where we might go.
The problem is, there’s some truth we doknow. 

Within a world of struggle and strife,
Only You have the words of eternal life.

Only you have offered hope in the future,
Between God and us, you are the suture.

Even though it grows quite hard to stay,
We cannot leave you or your way.”

The disciples decided (or most of them did)
It was with Jesus that they placed their bid.

They decided, as their ancestors had,
To be on God’s side couldn’t be bad.

And so I say to you this day…
“Wait, Pastor Julia, I’ve something to say…”

“What is it, my child, what bothers you so?”
“Well, you’ve confused me. And so I must know

I thought God chose us. I thought it was done. 
I thought the war’s over. The fight has been won.

Didn’t Luther write we’d never say yes…
Without God’s Spirit, we can’t acquiesce!

If you tell me, ‘Today you must choose’
Are you not setting us up… to lose?”

You are right, my dear, in every way.
And yet you made a choice today.

You came to be here, to be in communion
To pray, to eat, to embody reunion.

Each day, we see gods far and near.
We can worship success. We can give over to fear.

We can spend our resources or over-honor our kin,
We can reverence our bodies from our toe to our chin.

We can make work our idol, honored, adored.
We can seek that which gives immediate reward.

But in the end, it all fails. It all becomes dust.
These idols- they’ll fade, they’ll die, they will rust.

In the end, what we need is something that lasts,
Something that goes beyond all other forecasts.

What can bring order to confusion and strife?
Only the hope of eternal life.

Eternal life, both for there and for here.
A growing, a knowing, a ridding of fear.

This is what Jesus offers- in body and blood.
Without that promise, bread and wine are just mud.

Like us, they’re from dust and to dust shall return,
But through eating and drinking, still we can learn

That God has chosen in creation’s favor,
The presence of Christ is what we savor

When we gather at table, both willing and able
To experience Jesus as the Truth and not fable.

To trust, to be open, is the choice we must make,
Each day, in the moment right when we wake.

In every moment, we choose a god to serve
With all that we have, each sinew and nerve.

 Our God is a God on the side of all of creation, 
Who knows and who loves without cessation.

Who gives us each talents, who gives us each gifts,
Who forgives our sins, who mends all our rifts.

Who with body and blood has chosen to feed us.
Who through valleys and o’er mountains, has chosen to lead us.

Lord, where could we go? You made us, you know us.
Now, through the Spirit, continue to grow us.

God has called you by name, so as your fear eases,
Choose your god every day. I recommend… Jesus.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Chew on This (Sermon)

John 6:51-58

         I have an obnoxious habit. (Well, probably more than one, but I’m just going to mention the one right now.) In a situation, when I am with other people whom I know identify as Christians and if we are talking about churchy, religious, or spiritual type things- I pay attention to how many times Jesus is mentioned. In listening to sermons, I think about how long it is until Jesus’ name comes into things. I want to hear about Jesus. 

         More specifically than just a mention of Jesus, I am interested in how we talk about him. Is Jesus easy to talk about- he’s great, good, and groovy? Is Jesus difficult to bring up- mysterious, frustrating, and confusing? Is Jesus close by and a ready comfort or far away and standoffish? 

         How do we interpret Jesus as a revelation of and from the Godhead? What does Jesus teach us about eternity, creation, and mercy?  

         It is possible to have a reductive conversation about Jesus- Jewish man from Roman-occupied Palestine, an itinerant rabbi with a band of unusual followers made up of women, laborers, and people who had worked for Rome. He died an ignoble death and something happened to his body. 

         For many of us, that’s not enough to say about Jesus. However, we are often as simplistic about
By Fritzs [GFDL ]
his divinity as some people are about his humanity. He died for our sins. He came to save us. Jesus loves the little children. 

         We’re talking about a fully human, fully divine being who caused his parents deep grief, who spoke with full knowledge about the prophecies of Isaiah, and yet also called a Canaanite woman a dog (Matthew 15). The very touch of his garment brought healing to a woman who suffered years of bleeding and his very words cursed a fig tree (Mark 5 and 11, respectively). Jesus warned off Peter’s bluster by rebuking him, “Get behind me, Satan” and then, later, washed Peter’s feet with humility and tenderness. 

         Jesus is a complex figure, the pioneer of our own faith and faithfulness, and God in flesh in our world. We cannot simplify who he was, who he is, and who he calls us to be. Today’s reading from John underscores that truth. 

         By the time gospel according to John is written, the Christian sect of Judaism is pretty much on the outside of temple life. It is, in part, through their own doing. Imagine tolerating a small group of people inside your religious group who have their own language, their own daily habits, and their own worship liturgy. As they progressively grow in their separation, it becomes harder and harder to include them in the activities and dynamics of the larger group. While there was animus between Jewish Judeans and Christian Judeans, the separation between the religious groups likely was more organic than the historically anti-Semitic slant of Western church history has led us to believe. 

         When the Fourth Gospel is being written, the complexity of living the Way of Christ has become evident. In the snippet of chapter 6 that we read today, the Greek takes a strange turn. The writer has Jesus initially using the verb phago for “to eat”, which is fairly straightforward. In verses 53 and 54, however, there is a switch. The writer moves from phago to trogoTrogo is a little more graphic, more intense than the simple eat. Trogo, in Greek, conveys gnawing, munching, and crunching. 

         Thus, the writer is deliberating making these words of Jesus almost more offensive. Jesus invites those who believe to eat his flesh and drink his blood and it won’t be a dainty or tidy meal. It’s a gnawing banquet, in which everything is to be savored and stripped- with the bones crunched and munched. 

         The writer of the Fourth Gospel is making it clear that being part of the community will not be for the faint of heart. The very ways that the love of Jesus compels us to be at home and in the world are tough, intense, gnawing acts of grace and mercy. 

         Unfortunately, many Christians today want Jesus to be fast food- cheap, easy to consume, and quick to clean up after. Yet, I find that the world needs the Jesus we gnaw, the Jesus we pick over, the Jesus we make soup from and still find marrow inside the bone that brings nutrition. 

         That 900-page report out of Pennsylvania about 30 years of abuse by priests- the pain of that situation, the hurt people, the damaged trust… that situation needs gnawing, munching, and crunching. It is for trogo, not a quick phago. There is not fast food solution to that in the Roman Catholic Church or to anything similar in any denomination or religion. Jesus urges us to do the work of getting to the bone of the issue. 

         The reality of Anchorage teachers returning to work without signed contracts- guaranteeing their rights for the year ahead- is an issue to gnaw over. It stresses and stretches people who are in this room right now. It affects the children of this city, the present and future of Alaska. The love of Christ compels us to consider the complexity of the issue and gnaw it down together. 

         The growth of wildfires in California, the frequency of 100-year floods in the mid-West, the overturning of regulations meant to sustain the growth and safety of wild and human life… these are issues to gnaw over together. Not things that can be solved simply. Not things that can be ignored. Not things that have nothing to do with our faith, but in fact, these are the very things that we can address because we have faith. 

         The eternal life mentioned in John here and elsewhere is synonymous with the abundant life mentioned in John 10. It is not a life waiting to start after death, but a life that comes with having Jesus with you in the present. It is a clear and present truth for all whom Jesus draws through himself, by the Spirit, to God the Holy Parent. This is the life we have when we feast on Christ- when we gnaw on the truth, munch on the mercy, and crunch on the amazing grace that leads us to where God can use us for the sake of others and the world that God made. 

         When we come to Jesus’ table, we are usually pretty tidy. I know that you want bite-size morsels that you can chew and swallow easily. Little sips of wine or juice wash down the crumbs and we wipe the edge of the cup in a semblance of being sanitary. Yet, we are fed in a mysterious way by a complex Savior who has promised to show up in this meal for the purposes of feeding our faith so that we can live a life that is going to bring us alongside all kinds of people and situations that we would probably not choose for ourselves and, sometimes, would avoid if we could. 

         It was true for the Christians of the first century, receiving the words of the Fourth Gospel, and it is true for those following the Way of Christ in the 21stcentury. We serve a resurrected Savior who is our brother (sibling rivalry), our leader (who is sometimes too far ahead), our teacher (whose lessons can be confusing), our healer (in his own sweet time), and the lover of our souls (what?!?). All of these things gnaw at us and we, on them. 

         Jesus is complicated. Jesus loves us. Jesus challenges us. Jesus wrestles with us. Jesus sends us out into the world, but there’s nowhere we can go that he’s not already there to welcome us. He feeds us. And, since Jesus is God, our whole lives are contained in him- from beginning through eternity. 

Let’s chew on that for a while. 


Sunday, August 12, 2018

Come Sit By Me (Sermon)

Pentecost 12B
12 August 2018

Ephesians 4:25-5:2

              There is a phrase: If you don’t have something nice to saydon’t say anything at all. What does this mean? (If you can’t say something that’s helpful or kind, then stay quiet.) There is an alteration of this quote that I’ve been thinking of lately: If you don’t have something nice to say, come sit by me.[1]

            In our society, “nice” doesn’t usually mean kind, truthful, or helpful. Usually, “be nice” means “don’t make a fuss” or “just go along with it” or “don’t be loud” or “stop making such a big deal”. Being nice often means less about fixing a problem and more about pretending there is no problem. When I think of the stress I feel on a daily basis, when I think of the news stories we hear, when I think of people who are being hurt daily by situations that are alterable or preventable, I want to say, “Yes! If you don’t have something nice to say, come sit by me.” 

            I don’t want to hear nice things. I want to hear honest things. I want to hear hard conversations. I want to hear about broken hearts, deep frustrations, apologies, forgiveness, and change. I want to hear people talk about how to change systems like racism, sexism, classism, ageism, ableism, LGBTQ-exclusion, injustice, inequity, mental illness, addiction, and the brokenness of cultural norms, ethics, and systems. I don’t want to talk about nice things. I want to talk about truth. If you don’t have something nice to say, come sit by me, because I don’t want nice. 

            The writer of Ephesians, using Paul’s writing style, is communicating with the church at Ephesus, reminding them of what it means to be the community of Christ. The reading we have today from Ephesians (4:25-5:2) shows a communal path with niceness and wrath as pitfalls on either side. The life of a Christian is a community life- lived together for support of one another and for work together for the sake of the world. Slander, bitterness, and unmitigated anger with one another mean that the community will be stunted in growth, failing to support one another. Niceness- surface relationships and conversations- means that the community will never take seriously the issues within and without that need attention, repair, and prayer. 

            It is the path of truth, the path of honesty, forgiveness, and grace, which leads us to where God wants us to be. Anything else, any other type of action, grieves the Holy Spirit. What does it mean to grieve the Spirit? If a child asked, it would be easy to say, We make the Holy Spirit sad when we make bad choices and when we don’t do the things we know are right. Most of us, however, are adults and need more solid spiritual food. As adults, we can handle more solid spiritual food. 

            How do we know what the Holy Spirit does? We are taught about the Spirit from the scriptures and from the documents of our faith that come through the traditions of the church. The Holy Spirit moved over the void at the beginning of creation (Genesis 1) and She breathed holy creative order over the chaos that previously existed. Creative ordering is the work of the Spirit and we see that outlined further, then, in the Apostle’s Creed. 

            The Holy Spirit brings order through the gift of the holy catholic church- where people gather in truth and power to worship, share what they have, and work for the sake of Christ in the world. The Spirit creates eternal stability for us, and all people, through the mysterious connection and hope of the communion of saints- the way we are interconnected with all people in God. The Spirit creates order through the forgiveness of sins- making it possible for us to trust one another and have faith in God’s mercy. The Spirit brings about the resurrection of the body- a wholeness that is our hope and God’s promise. And the Spirit continues the work of creation by the transformation that is and will be the life of the world to come. 

            This is the work of the Spirit. Speaking truth about this work and living lives that do not undermine this truth is what brings joy to the Holy Spirit. A bland niceness that fails to wrestle with the doubts and effort it takes to trust in mystery does not create community. Spiteful gossip or frustrated bitterness turns away people whom the Spirit is driving toward our community. Those are the things that grieve the Spirit. The path of discipleship, the way of Christ, the walk of life together means speaking truth to one another, being kind, forgiving, and being willing to ask for and accept help from each other. 

            It would be easier, sort of, to talk about the John reading today- to say Jesus is food for everyone. There’s enough Jesus to go around. God will feed us. That would be a nice sermon. I could do it. You could like it. We’d be fine. But I don’t have anything nice to say because nice is not what the world needs now. Nice is not the Spirit moving over creation. Nice is not the meaning of Easter resurrection or the promise of God with us. 

            Nice isn’t enough. And the opposite of nice isn’t mean, it’s ambivalence. It’s feeling helpless and hopeless and defeated. It’s feeling alone, ineffective, and unimportant. There is no space for nice in a healthy community of Christ. Not in the time of the Ephesians, not now. If you feel that way, and you might, if you feel that way, sit by me. If you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit by me. If you have something you want to change, something that breaks your heart, something that you need to address, come sit by me. 

            Now, who else is willing to be a partner? Who else is willing to open a seat? Who else is willing to say, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, sit by me because I am ready to be part of God’s work”? 

            The writer of Ephesians says, Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (5:1-2) Imitators of God- that’s a broad expanse of possibilities- imitating God. We can create, unite, heal, feed, free, forgive, build up, put to rest, restore, listen, speak truth to power, rest, befriend, and so many other things. If we wonder what imitation might look like- we have Jesus as the pioneer of a faithful life, worthy of imitation. Jesus was not nice. I’m sure he was pleasant and affable, but his definitive state wasn’t to talk about the weather, the lamb, and the price of olives in the market. He made relationships, spoke truth, and showed compassion. 

            He was a companion- a bread friend[2]- to the people who traveled with him, who he met on the way, and to the people who were otherwise shut out of his society. If you don’t have something nice to say, sit by Jesus. And we are now his hands and feet, we are now his ears and words, we are now the workers in the kingdom. We are called to the imitation of God in Christ. We are called together- as community- to help one another in the imitation of God in Christ. We are called to help one another, to hold one another accountable, to be truthful and generous to one another in the imitation of God in Christ. 

            The Spirit draws us together, tethers us through her creative ordering, for the sake of one another, for the sake of Spenard and Turnagain, for the sake of Anchorage and Alaska, for the sake of our country and the world, for the sake of others and the world that God made, as it says in our baptismal vows. 

            Here we are- you and me. There are many chairs, but if you don’t have anything nice to say, please- come sit by me. 


[1]Alice Roosevelt Longworth (Teddy Roosevelt’s oldest daughter) had a sofa pillow that said, “If you don’t have something nice to say about someone, come and sit by me.” All variations of this quote are usually traced back to reporter commentary on that decoration. 
[2]Companion comes from words meaning bread (pani-) and with (com-), making the word mean something more like messmate or bread friend, describing someone with whom you eat more than simply an acquaintance.