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Monday, September 10, 2018

September 9, 2018

Mark 7:24-37                      
Isaiah 35:4-7a                     
James 2:1-17
This morning God calls us from fear to astonishment.  We start out the first reading in fear, and we end the Gospel with amazement, and that’s what God does for us, the journey God takes us on.
We have a lot of fear.  We are isolated, ruled by fear.  It is so easy to go there.   We think of the worst possible outcome, so we can be prepared.  Fear blinds us to the possibilities God has in mind, unable to see the vision that God is building toward, in which streams will flow in the desert and the blind and the lame with see and leap.  Fear makes us deaf to our neighbors in need as we work to protect our own position and possessions.  Fear paralyzes us in inaction as we hesitate to make a move that might put us at risk.  Fear keeps us from speaking for fear of saying the wrong thing.  Fear isolates us from others as we fear our neighbor.  These times seem especially ruled by fear, as people are afraid to talk to their neighbors and family members for fear of a difference of opinion, fear of being “ghosted,” fear of being shunned, fear of embarrassing ourselves.  Fear makes us judgmental.  It causes us to draw lines between us and other people, to try to sort people into safe people and unsafe people, or deserving people and undeserving. 
But fear is not living, so God calls us out of fear into faith.  To have faith is to act into God’s vision, even though we can see it or hear it, yet.  To have faith is to move forward, even when we can’t see the way, following the one who leads us, the one we are learning to trust.  To be faithful is to be trustworthy, reliable, dependable.  To be faithful is to show no favoritism.  To be faithful is to be compassionate rather than indifferent to the needs of others.
Faith calls us out of our fear.  It doesn’t say we won’t be fearful, but faith means not to let our fear be our prime motivator.  We shouldn’t worship fear or let it rule us.  Instead, faithfulness means that we let love guide our actions.  We step out into the unknown wilderness and dance with joy.  Because of love we put our fear behind us and sing in the dark valley of the shadow of death.  Because of love we invite those who are disheveled and not dressed up, people with different hygiene than we have to join us.  Faith means we don’t just tolerate people different from us, but we learn from them.  We ask their opinion and listen to it.  We give them opportunities to share their gifts.  We find things in common with them.  We regard them as brothers and sisters. Faith calls us to respond to the basic needs of all our neighbors because in doing so we help them move from fear into loving relationship and abundant life.
Faith calls us to persist.  The Syrophonecian woman comes to Jesus.  She is compelled by fear—fear that her daughter will never find healing.  But she is also compelled by love to come on behalf of her little one who lay dying at home, and on behalf of all Gentiles.  She goes to Jesus on our behalf.  Did you know we are Gentiles?  And Jesus calls us dogs.  We are unworthy of notice, he seems to say.  There isn’t enough for us, according to Jesus in his weary, tired, annoyance.  He just wants a moment to himself.  But she comes to Jesus, because we dogs can’t wait another moment for our crumbs, which are more than plenty for us.  We sit at the table, and Jesus is trying to eat in peace, and we sit begging, watching his every move, hungry, hopeful, faithfully by his side, hoping to catch a nibble of the abundant, life-giving food he has to offer.  We don’t care what he calls us, we just want a little of what Jesus has to offer.
Dogs don’t know when they are being insulted, but this woman does, but she is fearless.  She doesn’t care what she’s called, because she knows who she is.  She knows her daughter is precious and worth fighting for.  If it had been only for herself, she might have gone away, but not for her daughter.  She’d be kicked and spit on and insulted and she even would have died.  She knew what it meant to sacrifice her dignity for the life of her beloved child.  She was a precursor to Jesus’ sacrifice for us, for us Gentile dogs. 
This woman is fearless in the face of Jesus’ insults.  When he calls her a dog, she doesn’t even wince.  Instead, she proves she’s his equal, that her faith is strong by trading barbs with him.  She insults the Son of God right back.  When she says, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs, she’s pointing out that right now, no one is lined up to eat at Jesus’ table.  She’d happily eat the crumbs, and she is pointing out that currently the “children,” the Jewish people aren’t biting, they aren’t accepting the food that Jesus is giving them to eat.  She’s pointing out that his message is falling on deaf ears.  It isn’t reaching the children.  So she’d gladly take their crumbs of what they’ve taken for granted.  She knows she is going to get the whole meal.  He’s a failure in his first task, and she lets him know that she knows.  But failing with the Judeans isn’t the end of the story.  Jesus isn’t going to be afraid of failure.  He’s not going to worship at the shrine of fear.  Instead he recognizes faith when he sees it, and he grants this woman’s prayer.  In fact, Jesus grants the prayers of the Gentiles, our prayers that we would taste the abundance of what God has to offer.  In this Gospel, God is hearing all our prayers.
Then there is this Gentile who is deaf.  He has friends who act in faith, by bringing him to Jesus.  Jesus makes a considerable effort to bring healing to this man.  He says to his ears, “Be opened.”
Isn’t that Jesus’ prayer for us—be opened?  What is closing us off?  What is keeping us from hearing each other?  What is keeping us from seeing each other?  What is keeping us from communicating with each other?  What is keeping us from touching each other?  What is keeping us from feeding each other, inviting each other, walking right up to each other?  It is fear that keeps us from embracing God’s love and each other. 
So Jesus calls us to faith, like the faith of these friends.  Jesus invites us to shed our fear and open ourselves to relationship.  It is in the relationship, the love that we are saved, that we find safety, that we find salve, healing, salvation.  Jesus walked right up to us.  Maybe we didn’t want him to truly see all that we’ve done or haven’t done.  Maybe we didn’t really want him to know our selfish thoughts.  But he walked up to us anyway.  He commanded us to be opened.  He commanded us to be opened to him and his love.  He commanded us to be open to each other, even when that other person doesn’t look like us, dress like us, smell like us.  And he commanded us to respond to God’s love, by taking loving actions toward those around us, meeting their needs.
As a result, we are introduced to God and those around us are introduced to God.  That’s what is says in Isaiah, “Here is your God!”  Here is your God, all who have trouble walking, seeing, talking, hearing!  “Here is your God” all you thirsty, isolated people, animals and places.  “Here is your God!” you poor, wearing dirty clothes.  “Here is your God,” you rich who are quick to call your lawyers.  Here is your God, showing you what it means to love your neighbors far and near.  Here is your God, all those who think you are better than others.  Here is your God, all you who show favoritism.  Here is your God all you who give, hoping to get something in return.  Here is your God all those who wish someone else well, but refuse to share your bread.  Here is your God, you dogs, you Gentiles, you outsiders.  Here is your God all you interrupting mothers, demanding our time.  Here is your God, all you who make mistakes and create divisions.  Here is your God, you pushy friends with all the answers.  Here is your God, you children of God. God is here!  God is near!  God is faithful!  God is powerful.
God is powerful to stand against our sins, our blindness, and all that we do that divides.  God is powerful to show mercy, forgive us, and help us live in a new way.  God is powerful to save us, heal us, and lead us toward God’s vision that is coming into this world, the Kingdom of God, justice, bread, community, love.  So we end with astonishment, awe, at God’s power and God’s love.  We stand speechless before God’s mercy, generosity, and healing.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

September 2, 2018

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23               
James 1:17-27
                When you look into the mirror, what do you see?  We wake up in the morning and stumble into the bathroom.  We go to wash our hands and look up.  I have to say, I am often surprised.  We don’t see our own faces that often.  Sometimes I wonder how that could be me.  Sometimes I see someone tired.  Sometimes I see someone happy.  Sometimes I see someone whose been working all day.  Sometimes I see my mom.  She and I have a very similar haircut right now and it is a true contest who has the most gray hair.  When I went to visit my brother, his youngest called me “Grandma” for the whole first day, because I look so much like my mom and he hadn’t met me before.  There are worse things to be called!  Sometimes when I look in the mirror, I see my dad.  I see my thin upper lip, I see my bony collarbone, and I am reminded of where I came from.  When I think of my parents, I think about their best characteristics that I want to emulate, and I think of their traits that I don’t want to pass on.
                I expected Sterling to resemble his dad more, and he probably will once he’s all grown up, but for now, he looks more like me.  He spends a lot of time with me, so he is taking on some of my mannerisms and speech patterns.  He’s my little reflection of all within myself that I am proud of and not so proud of.
                We are all children of God, made in God’s image.  In the same way that we look at our kids and see good, God sees good.  In the same way that we want to shape our kids so that they reflect their best, so God wants the best from us and for us.  I have to admit that when I look in the mirror at home, I don’t expect to see traits that resemble God, but when I come to the time of confession in church, and when I am in the car reflecting on my day, I am holding up a mirror to honestly see myself for what I have learned, what I could do better, and what I am pleased about.  Sometimes I am sorting out what are God’s expectations of me and what are other people’s expectations of me and what are my expectations for myself.  I am figuring out what is realistic, what is valuable, what my goals are, and how to forgive myself.
                Today, God is laying out God’s purpose, and that is loving, life-giving relationship.  This is God’s perfect gift and generous act.  Everything else God does is to support that purpose.  God created and all creation for that purpose.  God gives the people commandments for that purpose, not only the 10 commandments, but hundreds of commandments about how we treat the poor and the foreigner and what to eat in order to be healthy, and how to treat diseases, and on and on.  All these commandments are for loving, life-giving relationship.
                So when they are used as weapons to say that one person is better than another, or to shame or blame, Jesus gets very upset and names the sin, hypocrisy.  He knows how easy it is to judge someone by outward appearance, to look at surface issues, like hand washing or dish washing, and judge them.  Sterling had a friend spend the night the other day, and when the boys finished eating, I reminded them to put their plates in the sink.  The little friend of Sterling’s said, “Wow, you sure keep your house nice!”  Everyone has a different standard of cleanliness and I would not consider my house tidy by any means, however, it seems very basic to expect a child to do something as simple as take their plate to the sink.  It is becoming a ritual for us, a habit, a tradition, for the life of the household.  But as soon as we use that tradition to judge how someone else does it, we are not promoting loving, life-giving relationship.  We are not leaving room for other ways of doing it, other life-giving traditions.  Someday we will probably come to the point where one person sets the table and another cooks and another clears the table, if that’s what is life-giving for us.  Or maybe we’ll hire someone to do our dishes, if that is what is life-giving.  If we worship our rules or our traditions, we miss the point of loving, life-giving relationship.
                Sometimes as Lutherans we worship the tradition.  We get so used to one way of doing things, that we don’t leave room to discuss what is loving and life-giving.  We don’t leave ourselves open to discussion.  We are blind to how our automatic rituals are received by others.  I love the rich tradition of the Lutheran Church.  I have recited the Lord’s Prayer in my sleep.  I had “Lead Me, Guide Me” in my head all week.  I regularly use phrases like “Simultaneously saint and sinner.”  I am a Christian and a very Lutheran one.  Traditions, especially ones based in rich history, and with such deep roots in good Biblical scholarship, can be so meaningful.  They can be a mirror reminding us of who we are, where we’ve come from, who our father is, and who has come before us to hand on this way of worship.
                And traditions can be damaging, exclusive, and harmful.  When do we know it is time to retire a tradition?  How much harm can we let a tradition cause before we throw it out?  How many times have our traditions and their hidden meanings driven away someone in need of loving, life-giving community?  Can we trust that that person has the resources to find a worshipping community that will suit their needs better?  How can we help translate our tradition so that outsiders can get a glimpse of the larger reality that our traditions are pointing to?  How can we allow God to speak to us through the current context of this world, to make our faith practices relevant to the needs and language of everyday people who are seeking God’s love?  I don’t have the answers, but I think Jesus is asking us to consider these questions.  We’re so used to our patterns, that we don’t even notice the discomfort they cause to other people.  We expect them to conform to us.  But maybe God is bringing us people to teach us something new, to hold up a mirror to see are we really faithful to God?  Or are we mostly faithful to our tradition because it is comforting and makes us feel good?  I know it is some of both.  As uncomfortable as it is to hold up that mirror, we have to keep holding it up to make sure our actions are faithful, and not just our words.
                In my family, we did things because we had always done them that way.  There was no discussion.  There was no relationship, no room for the creativity and gifts of each person in the family.  I want things to be different in the family I have with Sterling and Nick.  We have rules for loving, life-giving relationship, for the safety and well-being of each member, and for interaction with the world.  And we have a curious, growing, intelligent child who wants to know why and all the possibilities of other ways of interacting.  So our commandments are examined as a family to see if they are life-giving, and how they could be more life-giving.  We hold some boundaries absolutely for the health and safety of all.  And we hold some flexibility to make room for new ideas and other ways of doing things. I have to say it would be easier to just lay down the law.  However, that’s not going to develop a kid who can think for himself.  Of course, I see myself in God’s image, so I think God wants us to think for ourselves and to work out the fulfillment of the law and the traditions together so they make sense for these times and these people. 
                God’s purpose in creation is to establish and maintain loving, life-giving relationship.  As God’s children, we are invited to see in ourselves the traits and values God is working to pass on to us, slow to anger, quick to listen, slow to speak.  Our actions begin to reflect our values.  But there is one more pitfall, and that is pride. As soon as we are arrogant enough to think that we have the answers or can lay down the law for another person, we are back to square one, because we’ve forgotten that the point is loving, life-giving relationship.
                In the pursuit of loving, life-giving relationship, God created us, gave us commandments, led us through the desert, and into new life.  God gave us Jesus to be in loving, life-giving relationship with us, and show us what that looks like.  Through Jesus’ gift, we have forgiveness, the chance to try again to live the values of our Father and brother, and because of eternal life, there is no end to this relationship.

Monday, August 27, 2018

August 26, 2018

John 6:56-69               
Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18             
Ephesians 6:10-20
            There once was a people who worshipped many gods.  They worshiped the god of the weather, and the god of the polite conversation, the god of the doormat, the god of that’s always how we’ve done it.  They worshiped the god of coffee, the god of their favorite pew, the god of their cute little church building.  Sometimes they bowed down before the god of fear.  That god made them give respect to money.  That god caused them to blame themselves and each other every time a member or pastor went away.  That god made them think of the worst possible scenario.  That god took all their energy.
            But one day a little child came in and asked for a drink of water.  The next day a teenager skateboarded outside their door.  A woman asked if she could walk her dog on their grounds.  The next day, someone came in hungry, someone came in who was living with his family of 5 in their car in the 95 degree heat, a family came in with a child and no roof to protect his holy little head.  The next day, someone came in who’s family member was taken away by the government.  The next day was Sunday and they read the scriptures they had always read.  But somehow they heard differently than they had in a while.  They began to remember who they were.  They realized that little child was Jesus at their door, and so was the skateboarder, the dog-walker, the hungry person, the whole houseless family, the immigrant.  All of these were Jesus, at their door, crying out for relationship, for justice, for love.
            They began to remember that they were once thirsty, that they needed a safe place to hang out with friends after school, that they needed a place to spend time in nature with animals, that they were once hungry, that they once didn’t know where they would sleep and put their little children to bed on the seat of a car.  They remembered they had once fled persecution in another country.  They remembered how God led them out of slavery, and protected them, and provided for them, parted the sea for them, and led them through the wilderness to build trust and relationship between them.
            The people remembered the God of freedom and they started to act out of love and generosity.  They gave out water at their church and at community events.  They had conversations with the teenagers.  They blessed the animals and the people that came to them.  They fed the hungry day after day.  They provided safety for a car camper here and there.  They educated themselves and marched for the cause of the immigrant in their midst.  They built relationships in their community.  They became what they were, the body of Christ, united with all God’s people.  They stood strong, though small, through many storms and struggles.  The were leaving their old Egypt slavery behind, their old gods, and embarking on a journey of learning who they really were and who God is.
Sometimes those old gods appeared and pulled at them.  They felt that nagging fear.  They felt that call to go back into their shells.  They worried about their aging building.  The sometimes did what was easier, instead of doing what was right.  The complained now and then.  But they put one foot in front of the other and not only did they remember, but God remembered them.  God forgave them their shortcomings, and trained them, prepared them, loved them, challenged them.
God gave them gifts.  God gave them gifts of truth-telling, of open hearts, of compassion.  God gave them practical gifts of leadership, of storytelling, of persuasion.  God gave them gifts of passion for justice.  God constantly gave them food and drink of his own body and blood.  God gave them protection of armor, of shields, of breastplates, of belts, of helmets, and of shoes.  All this protection was to make them ready to proclaim the Gospel of peace, even while flaming arrows were attacking them. 
This good news of peace, was not the kind of peace one makes bowing to the powers that be, the oppressors, the abusers.  But instead it was the good news of peace for those who knew no peace, who were harassed, spit upon, looked down on, blamed, shackled.  This was not the peace of a doormat who crumbled before the whims of the strong and greedy.  This was peacemaking for the sake of the small ones.  This was peaceful resistance.  Of all the gifts that God gave them, God did not give the gift of a sword, but something much more powerful, that of new life, so that swords were meaningless against the people.  This abundant life could not be destroyed.
God gave them the gift of God’s own self, God’s son among them.  God humbled himself to walk this earth like any of us, and show us how close God is.  This was offensive to many, that God invites the people to eat his flesh and blood, to give up power, to give up control, to be in unity with others who are different.  Because they were so offended, the people arrested him, beat him, humiliated him, murdered him.  God gave everything God had, God’s power, life, example, dignity, even God’s only son, absolutely everything.  Finally, God gave them eternal life, abundant life, the invitation to die to the old ways, the old gods, the old fears, and walk in newness of life.
So the people took these gifts and they stood.  They stood against the forces that defy God.  They stood against hate, greed, violence, discrimination, and fear.  They withstood.  They joined with others in raising their voices on behalf of those no one ever listened to.  They stood with refugees in courtrooms.  They stood with prisoners denied any dignity.  They stood with children as their advocates.  They stood together despite differences of opinions.  They were there for each other.  They stood firm.  They didn’t give up.  They weren’t swayed by evil arguments or by fear.  The stood firm in what was right.  They stood, on their feet, planted, watchful, rooted, alive.
They saw some who were not so rooted wander away.  And they knew they had a choice to follow suit.  But in another way, this was a false choice, because of who they were, because of who God is.  They said, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  Where else would we be that is true and hopeful?”  So they stayed.  And God stayed with them.  And though they experienced the mystery of the Gospel, they couldn’t explain it.  They could only live it and invite others to join them in living it in the body of Christ, in community, with the Divine, alive.
The people braced themselves to lose everything.  They expected to be resisted until they fell.  They resigned themselves to death.  And still they stood for what is right.  They stood for the vision of the Kingdom.  They stood by God who had stood by them.  And instead of death, they found themselves very much alive.  They found they were not limping around, but they were vital.  They knew their neighbors and had built relationships.  They had partnered with churches and organizations that had energy to give.  They could be real with each other and say what God had put on their minds to say.  They found themselves being transformed.  And they found their world was being transformed.  People saw their example and no longer thought all churches are the same, in it for the false gods.  People saw each other as people.  People who had been pushed around found their own voices.  The body of Christ grew.  God’s vision began to be lived.  There was no perfection.  There were still troubles to be worked out and more work to do, however the people became the body of Christ that God made them to be, not just the church, but the neighbors, the needy, the partners, all standing together, equipped, real, powerful, abundant, living, vital.

Monday, August 20, 2018

August 19, 2018

John 6:51-58                       
Proverbs 9:1-6                   
Ephesians 5:15-20
                Part of my pastoral training was a year-long chaplaincy at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco.  During that time, I was assigned the patients awaiting heart transplant that were too sick to wait at home.  Norm was the longest-waiting patient on the floor.  He lived at that hospital for over a year. 
                The patients there felt a mixture of fear, guilt, and hope.  They wondered if a match would ever come.  The hoped a match would come.  They hoped for the new life made available by a donated heart.  They dreaded that a match would come.  They didn’t want someone else to have to die for them to have life.  They feared organ rejection, and immunosuppressant drugs that would isolate them.  They feared the organs wouldn’t work for them and the organs would be wasted on them.
                Organ donation is a way for a person to share life with another.  The first heart transplant was only 51 years ago, and the patient only lived a couple of weeks.  Now organ transplant is common.  I’ve made it known to my loved ones that if possible, I’d like to live on in new life, that if conditions are good that my organs can be used by someone else and if I don’t need them anymore, by all means, donate them.
                This Gospel reading is about sharing life.  They didn’t have organ donation then, of course, but they knew life could be conveyed through eating.  Vegetables share their energy and nutrients with us when we break them down with our teeth and digest them in our gut.  For those of us who eat animals, they share their energy, they give their life, to give us energy and life.
                The Israelites knew that blood was the life force.  They had laws about not spilling blood, not eating blood, not touching blood, and they had laws about butchering animals in a way that removed all their blood.  So when Jesus said this about eating his flesh and drinking his blood, to a group of Jewish Israelites, it must have been really shocking.  What is he asking us to do?  It sounds like cannibalism.  Cannibalism is feasting on the dead.  It is a theft.  But this is about conveying life, and the one we eat is alive.  Cannibalism is consuming flesh.  This is about a shared life, abiding together, being one, in unity. 
                We are alive right now.  But are we?  We are in a daze.  We fail to notice what’s going on around us.  We are going from one thing to another with little direction.  We dismiss the injustice of this world because we don’t know what to do about it.  We are physically alive, but are we really living?
                Jesus invites us into new, abundant life.  He says to us, “Come eat with me, receive my power that comes through giving myself away.”  He says, “Come eat with me and learn how to give yourself away for the life of your neighbors, for the sake of the poor, for the sake of the world.”  He says, “Come eat with me and be drawn into a relationship. Come eat with me and experience being fed in a way you never have before.  Come sink your teeth into my flesh, into this relationship, into a life shared.”  And not only eat with Jesus, but eat Jesus and take his power within ourselves.  Life is a transference of power.  God lives.  Jesus lives.  The world lives. We live.  Our neighbors live.  The world lives.  The cosmos lives.  Each lives for the rest.  All share power.  All share life.
                I heard a phrase this week, “The sacramental nature of life.”  I’ve been mulling it over.  Every moment of life is a miracle, that this combination of elements and molecules would come together in this way at this time.  It’s wondrous.  It’s baffling.  A sacrament is God’s promise and presence in a physical way.  In life, we experience God’s presence with us in each other, in the trees and mountains, in our challenges.  Everywhere we look, we can experience God, because God’s handiwork, God’s artwork is all around us.  This is not only the evidence of God, but God’s very presence continuing to create, God’s breath breathing into us.  God’s voice is on the wind, in the sound of bird song, in the voice of someone in need.  God is Spirit, and yet God comes to us in the flesh, in a physical way, so we can touch and hear and eat him.  Our five senses are our way of knowing, given to us by God to experience the world.  They give us information about how things work and how to relate to the world.  And God comes to us in the physical world, and when we still didn’t get it God came to us as Jesus.  We, like Thomas, after the resurrection, say we want to see him and touch him too.  We want the physical experience of Jesus, because we can’t get it through our heads, it won’t make sense to us otherwise.
                Sacrament is also the holy in the ordinary.  We won’t be awake every moment to the presence of God, but we can train ourselves to see God more readily and to be ready to respond in a loving way.  Jesus walks with us in the very ordinary boring sleepy times.  Just because we haven’t had an epiphany, doesn’t mean God’s not there.
                Some say Jesus is a spirit within each one of us.  Some say Jesus was a person like anyone else.  But Jesus is both spiritual and physical, and that is a good example for us.  It is easy to get so wrapped up in physical life, in providing for our needs, in accumulating material things, in making life comfortable, in going from place to place, in experiencing life through our 5 senses.  We start to act like that’s all that matters.  However, we do all these things for our physical bodies and then we find we still aren’t fulfilled, we aren’t happy, we aren’t connected.  We’ve been neglecting our spirit.  There is more to life than the physical.
                It can also be easy to get focused on our spirit.  We can walk around listening to Christian radio, praying quietly in our room, coming to church, making sure we believe the right things and say the right words.  But we have missed the point if we don’t take it to a physical level, if we don’t get our hands dirty doing God’s work, feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and imprisoned, providing shelter for those out in the cold.  We are both physical and spiritual and we can’t neglect either part of ourselves if we want to truly live.
                The readings today speak of wisdom.  Wisdom is not only a knowledge in our brains.  Wisdom is about our actions, as well.  We learn wisdom through our actions, through our mistakes, and thinking through those situations to consider how we might have done it differently.  Then we use that wisdom to inform our future actions.  When we have wisdom, that doesn’t mean we only know something, but that we act on it, and learn from those actions, and apply that learning, as well.  Wisdom results in action not just for ourselves but for others.  Wisdom results in justice.
                Life is a transference of power.  God lives.  Jesus lives.  We live.  Our neighbors live.  The world lives.  The cosmos lives.  Each lives for the rest.  All share power.  All share life.
                At Wisdom’s table, all us senseless, simpleton, fools come together.   Wisdom, Sophia, Holy Spirit, all names for the same one.  We are all invited to this table of the Holy Spirit, to be fed with both food and wisdom.  The way to gain wisdom is through experience, but the other way we learn wisdom is through relationships with those wiser than us, more experienced than us.  So we are invited to God’s table, to learn from each other and from God the wisdom of abundant life, sharing life.
                The last week of my chaplaincy, Norm got his heart.  He was a mix of emotions.  He was grateful.  He was scared.  He was overjoyed.  And the new family he had built on the 6th floor of the hospital rejoiced with him, who had eaten with him at the table, shared with him at support group, and held their breath every time a heart became available.  This new family now gave thanks with him, grieved with him the loss of the person who donated this gift, and prayed for the new life that was now possible.  Norm had plans, not to just use this new heart for himself alone.  He had experienced the gift of someone who gave themselves away for him, and he had a strong faith, so he knew the love of Jesus who had given his life for the sake of Norm, and for the whole world.  Once Norm healed, he looked forward to giving of himself, serving others that they might have life.  He walked out of that hospital ready to give himself away for the sake of his neighbor, the world, the cosmos.
                Jesus is giving us a heart transplant.  We have hearts of apathy, hearts of stone, hearts of confusion, of fear.  God takes out that heart and gives us God’s own heart.  So when we love, we love with God’s love.  When we hurt for someone, we do so with the compassion God feels when people are hurting.  When we see someone in need our heart then goes out to them, as God’s heart has for us, and so we are people with hearts beating in the rhythm of God’s mercy. The blood pumping through our veins is to empower us to act with spirit, with justice, with love, with compassion, with hope.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

August 12, 2018

John 6:35, 41-51       
1 Kings 19:4-8                   
Ephesians 4:25-5:2
     When were you the hungriest you’ve ever been?  Some of you shared last week about working on a farm and how hungry that hard work made you.  I remember after delivering Sterling, I was ready to order everything on the menu at the hospital and the food tasted so good.  And as I produced milk, that took so many calories, the food you all brought by tasted so good.  I know you’re good cooks, but food never tasted so good as it did those early weeks when I was nursing.  Hard work makes us hungry.  Other times we’re hungry because we’ve been walking a long way.  Sterling can get pretty picky about what he eats, but when we were hiking at Yellowstone, he ate pretty much everything we put in front of him.  He was working his body hard, and any and all food was devoured.
      We are so used to having so much food and so many choices, we hardly have a chance to get hungry before we eat again.  Maybe we don’t realize what the manna meant to the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness, not knowing where their next meal was coming from, and expending all that energy walking.  Maybe because we have so much, we miss part of the meaning of Jesus telling us over and over again, “I am the bread of life.”
      The Israelites had left their usual food behind, their whole way of life behind, which was kind of the point.  They left their homes, their garlic and fleshpots as we heard last week, their soup and bone broth.  They left their work.  They left their slavery.  They had a routine they followed for hundreds of years.  They had an identity as an oppressed people.  In the desert, they didn’t have any way of supporting themselves.  They were scared.  They were hungry.  They were tired.  They were whiney. 
     So God gives them food.  God gives them quail.  God gives them manna.  God gives them instructions to build community and ensure safety and good order.  God gives them a guiding pillar.  God gives them marching orders.  God gives them opportunities to learn and trust and work together and build confidence.  God gives them responsibility.  God gives them food for their bellies, but also food for their minds, their spirits.  God is giving them food and God is giving them life—life beyond food, life beyond slavery to their bellies or Egyptian masters, life beyond power-grabbing.  This is the kind of life that spreads life to others and ensures lasting, abundant life for all.
     The people long for the life they knew.  They want the same, same, same that they always knew.  They want what they are used to—the food they are used to, the treatment they are used to, the work, they are used to, the slavery they are used to.  Learning and moving into freedom is going to be harder than they thought, plus it wasn’t even their idea. God thought it up and shared it with Moses.  Nobody asked these poor Israelites.  But God knew that slavery was not really living, and God keeps handing over this new life to people whether we want it or not.  So God led the people out of Egypt.
     Now God is hearing them complain and being very patient.  But if they want the same, same, same, God is going to give it to them.  They will eat the same food day in and day out.  Manna for breakfast, Manna for lunch, manna and quail for dinner.  Manna pudding, Manna cakes, fried manna, manna sandwiches, manna crutons, manna soup, crunchy manna in milk.  The good part is, they are pretty hungry, because they are on the move, they are active, they are going somewhere.  So they are bound to devour whatever is put in front of them.
      God doesn’t feed the people to stay still and stay slaves to their old life.  God feeds people on the move.  Each week we come to eat at this table and the idea is that even though we keep coming back to this place, we are on the move.  We are on the move as individuals, learning how to live abundantly in our everyday lives, learning to look to our pillar to lead us, learning to be free of all that we are enslaved to, learning to respond to other wanderers in need.  So we come not with bibs on, but with our hiking boots.  We are going someplace, and we are taking this food we have eaten to strengthen us for the journey.  We’ve got a 40 mile trek ahead of us, 7 day one, or a 40 year one that we’re on to discover how to be God’s people of blessing and trust and abundant life.  We come to this table, not with our bib on, but our apron, because we’re not just consumers of food, we are using this energy not just for ourselves, but to go out and serve the poor, free the prisoner, visit the sick, comfort the bereaved, and live in a new way, live abundantly in relationship with all God’s Creation.
      Elijah was one prophet on the move.  He lay down beneath the broom tree because he thought his life was done.  He had just destroyed the prophets of Baal, the false prophets.  Jezebel was after him for it to murder him.  But God fed him so that his ministry could continue.  The very next part of the story, Elijah experiences a whirlwind, earthquake, and fire, but none were the voice of God.  Instead God could be heard in the still small voice, the sound of sheer silence.  Not only is Elijah not done on this long journey God has fed him for, he has the chance to listen to the voice of God, who then tells him to go anoint a new king of Israel as well as a prophet.  Elijah has every reason to expect that his life is over, just like the Israelites in the wilderness.  They had no way of getting food for that many people.  They expected to die of hunger.  Both they and Elijah were ready to give up, but God fed them and not just with food, but with leadership skills, and challenges, and community, and instructions, and power. 
       We are fed, not so we stay the same, although we may like how we’re doing things.  We may very well be comfortable with the way we do things as individuals or a congregation.  But God is feeding us not for us to stand still, but because there is still work to do, the journey is not over.  We may at times feel like giving up, but somehow God keeps feeding us day in and day out, and we find ourselves still alive, still going places.
    God was taking the Romans from one way of being on a journey to new life, from malice and slander, and bitterness, and anger, and wrath, and wrangling and evil talk, to kindness, tenderheartedness, forgiveness, grace.  God was taking them from the slavery of hatred to the freedom of forgiveness.  It is so easy to let our hurt feelings eat us up inside, or to let our human divisions get all blown out of proportion until we can’t even hear each other anymore or see each other as human.  Paul points out that to be angry is to be human, and is more than ok. But we have a choice about how we respond to our anger.  We can let it destroy us from the inside out, let it fester, express it hurtfully, violently, or we can take note of it, wonder about it, and when we find out what it comes from, or what it is a response to in another person, address that hurt or that need. 
       We are on a journey of self-understanding.  We are on a journey of learning how to live in community, being honest with others about our feelings, even when we aren’t proud of our feelings, asking forgiveness when we express them in hurtful ways.  But often our anger comes from a place of love, and in that way it comes from God.  We might be hurt for another person facing injustice.  We might be disappointed in someone we had hoped for more from.  Another person may not have the information we have.  In any case, anger doesn’t have to become a huge rivalry or build into a wall between us.  When we address it when it is still small, it is easier to manage.  But if we wait, still addressing it is better than stuffing it, which can lead all sorts of bad places like resentment, or drinking, or depression, or high blood pressure. 
     We are starting a journey at King of Kings to decide whether to open our parking lot to people transitioning out of houselessness.  We may even be invited to house people who are coming out of Providence Hospital, who have no other place to go but must have shelter or their wounds will never heal.  We don’t know where this journey will go.  We may decide that we are not equipped, that we don’t have the partners, that the right kind of support won’t be provided.  And still we will not be the same people as when we left on this journey, because we will have talked to each other, we may have talked with our neighbors, we will have worked out some of the kinks of the discernment process, we may inspire someone else or plant a seed that someday may grow into an actual good spot for these little huts to be placed.  We may decide to go forward.  If we do, we will run into difficulties, but that’s what Jesus feeds us for.  As Reverend Nancy from the little Episcopal Church in Eugene says, “People are irritating.”  Every step takes energy and every step changes us.  Everything we learn can be applied to the next try, and those who have gone before have already prepared the way for us.  Small churches like ours, and even smaller, have been doing this for years and have great advice for us.  Either way, we’re not going backward or sitting still.  We’re fed for the journey and God is giving us new life and teaching us how to live in community and how to express our anger and how to be fed as a community of trust and love.
      What’s the hungriest you’ve ever been?  I hope it is today, and I hope it is for justice, peace, and love.  I hope it is for the new life of our Savior Jesus.  I hope it is a hunger for every person to have a chance to heal, for every person to be treated as a person, for everyone to have shelter and food and respect.  Jesus meets our hunger with manna, some “What is it?”  Some trust, a shared table, and a vision of hope for all the earth.  Let’s eat!

August 5, 2018

Gospel: John 6:24-35       
Reading: Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15
Relational Question: Share a time you were changed by a meal.  Who was present?  What changed?
                In the story of Hansel and Gretel, a famine has come over the land, and desperate parents go to abandon their children in the woods.  The children, Hansel and Gretel, leave a trail of white stones leading back home, having overheard their parents’ plan.  But when they are led out a second time, and Hansel has been prevented from gathering more stones, he leaves a trail of breadcrumbs.  Those crumbs, however, are eaten by the birds and the children find themselves lost in the woods.  Because of the temporary nature of bread, they find themselves stuck.  However they are looking for something more than food, something deeply nourishing and fulfilling, and that is family.  Bread and food are an important of health and fulfillment, but they only take us so far.  In this story, though, the temporary nature of bread, leads the children to not only find nourishment and more than that every child’s dream of a giant gingerbread house covered in sweets, but to find and use their own power-strength, intuition and intellect, and to save their family from starvation. 
Jesus says, “Work not for the food that perishers, but for the food that endures.”  Work not for the candies and sweet treats of the gingerbread house, but for the long-term goal of family and deeper fulfillment.
You could say the Israelites were following a trail of breadcrumbs.  They ate the first Passover meal there in Egypt, the fatted calf, bitter herbs, wine and unleavened bread, to strengthen them for the journey.  They crossed the Red Sea.  Now they find themselves hungry in the wilderness.  They know God has brought them out, but they aren’t sure that God is going to do anything else for them, so they complain.  They are not following God, they are following their stomachs, and who could blame them, they don’t know God.  They haven’t had a chance to build a relationship of trust.  That’s what the next 40 years is going to be about.  God doesn’t chide them for complaining in the wilderness.  Instead, God says to Aaron and Moses to tell the people to draw near to God, for God “has heard your complaining.”  And not just heard, but responded.  And not just responded to that immediate need for bread, but the need to become a people and a people who trust God.
The Israelites were a nomadic tribe.  Like most or all nomadic tribes, they go where the food is.  The Israelites see God as a pillar of fire during the night, and a cloud during the day.  It is no wonder they followed God in the form of a cloud.  Where there are clouds, there is rain, and where there is rain there is vegetation and food.  Now, God promises them to give them manna each day and quail each evening, a kind of breadcrumb trail that they will follow as they learn that God is their provider, that God is reliable, and as they let go of their identity as slaves and learn to live in freedom and community.  This trail of breadcrumbs not only leads to nourishment for the people, but also to a deeper fulfillment, in relationship with God and each other and this creation.
We, too, follow breadcrumb trails.  Some are left by advertising agencies, telling us that material things will lead to our fulfillment.  Some are left by movies and television, telling us that problems are solved by violence and luck.  Some are left by family members trying to get what they want from us.  Some are left by religious authorities trying to dumb down the Gospel and give us easy answers instead of walking with us on a journey of learning to trust.  Some are left by us, as we try to leave ourselves hints about how to get back home again, to track down the fulfillment of our deepest needs, to be authentically ourselves.  And some are left by God, not for temporary quick-fixes, but leading to a vision of abundant life for all.
The crowd in the Gospel was following the breadcrumb trail.  They were mostly in it for the breadcrumbs.  It feels pretty good to have a full stomach, especially when you’ve experienced nothing but hunger for a long time.  It is easy to get led astray by breadcrumbs.  When we’re hungry, we’re vulnerable.  We’d do just about anything to satisfy that need.  When we go to Jesus with our hungers, we find our brother who cares about our deeper needs.  When we go to things or violence or movie stars or politicians, we find that they are looking to fill their needs and will use us to gain power or to destroy or hurt or divide.
                Jesus takes this opportunity with the crowds to have a conversation and make them think a little deeper.  He has just fed the 5000.  But they are still following him.  They have been fed, but they find themselves still hungry.  Jesus is noticing their deeper need and pointing it out to them.  He tells them to look past their stomachs and see what is really lasting in life and work for that.  He tells them that the work they need to do is belief, responding with trust in God.  They start to get a little greedy and try to turn him into a bread machine.  But Jesus responds to their story about the past when God fed the Israelites with manna, and points out that it is still a reality.  Daily manna is not of the past, but it is still happening,  because God is presently still giving the bread of life, the bread from heaven, who is Jesus.  God not only meets the needs of our stomachs with the food provided, but God meets deeper needs for safety and challenge and community and love.
Jesus feeds people.  He doesn’t expect us to go hungry.  Of course we have needs to fulfill.  It’s ok to satisfy our need for food, our physical needs.  It is ok to follow the trail of breadcrumbs.  But let’s not mistake the breadcrumbs for our ultimate fulfillment.  Don’t stop with the bread crumbs.  Let us open ourselves to hearing the deepest need within ourselves and our communities, for belonging, and deep nourishment, and connection not just for us, but for every creature.  When we let ourselves feel that longing and hear the cries of our neighbors, we can fix our direction toward the one who walks with us on the path to that reality, that new life.  We can remember at all points in the journey to give thanks to God for each crumb of bread.  Each one is a miracle of soil and light and seed and water and the energy it gives our bodies.  We can notice where the nourishment we receive comes from, that we rely on many others to grow our food, harvest it, process it, ship it, and sell it.  Even if we eat by ourselves, we are eating for the most part because of a whole community of people who made it possible for that food to be there.  
Do we live to eat or eat to live?
The Israelites were complaining in the wilderness.  “I miss
my fleshpot!”  A fleshpot is basically a big pot of soup.  This kind of soup was for hungry people who couldn’t afford to waste any food.  That was where they boiled down the bones and stretched what little they had to feed the whole family.  God saw the bigger vision.  Jesus said to the tempter, “Is not life more than bread?  One does not live by bread alone.”  Is not life more than the fleshpots?  The Israelites had trouble seeing  past that, and so do we.  Our temporary comforts can seem so important.  But when you’re going somewhere that milk and honey flow and you can live in freedom, a little discomfort is worth it on the way.
                God has a vision in mind and is leading us there by a breadcrumb path.  We will wander the wilderness as we practice trust and belief.  We will be uncomfortable on this journey.  But God is with us and knows where we’re headed.  Jesus, the bread of life, is right here with us, giving us life.  Receive the bread of heaven, see the new life we are being handed, live in gratefulness. The name manna means “What is it?”  Be willing to ask what it is, be open to whatever gifts come from God, and to share those gifts, for the nourishment of the whole creation.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

July 29, 2018

John 6:1-21         
2 Kings 4:42-44                  
Ephesians 3:14-21
                It is a troubling question, “If Jesus can do miracles, why didn’t Jesus do the miracle I asked for?  If God is so powerful as to feed thousands, why doesn’t God feed people who are starving right now?”  Today we get 3 miracles: The one in the Old Testament in which Elisha feeds 100 people with 20 loaves of barley and they ate and had some left, the feeding of the 5000 in the Gospel, and the stilling of the storm in the Gospel.
                These stories are about miracles, which are rare occurrences, and yet they lift up the abundance and overwhelming power of God, which is not at all rare.  But first, lets look at the word “miracle.”  According to Wikipedia, “miracle is an event not explicable by natural or scientific laws.  Theologians typically say that, with divine providence, God regularly works through nature yet, as a creator, is free to work without, above, or against it as well.”  However, the word in the Gospel reading for this morning in not “miracle.”  It is “sign.”  That’s the word I want to explore this morning.
                If these are signs, what are they telling us or pointing to? 
                They are signs pointing to God’s power for nutrition and healing of the hunger in our bodies as well as the deeper hungers within all of us for safety, growth, community, and fulfillment.  We find that feeding is a theme throughout the Bible—we’re about to experience 6 Sundays with a focus on bread.  Some pastors are a little bent out of shape having to preach on bread for so many Sundays in a row.  Some, like me, can’t get enough bread, so let’s get started.  God fed the Israelites in the wilderness with manna.  People had to learn to rely on God for the manna, which they baked into cakes and breads.  They had to learn not to collect more than they could use or it would become wormy.  And there are other stories of feeding.  A woman bakes her last flour into a cake for a prophet and she finds her flour replenished.  Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt because of a famine, and Joseph protects the Egyptians from the famine because of a dream.  People need to eat to be healthy and health is God’s intention for creation. 
These are signs telling us about God’s intention for Creation, for wholeness and new life.  Certainly God made the world in balance and order, with all creatures and plants and planets in relationship, in obedience, in health.  So when feeding or healing happens in the scriptures or in our lives we can see it as a returning to the way God intended things to be.  We know we’ll be hungry again and sick again and eventually die, because of the breakdown of our bodies and the effects of this world on us.  So we hold out the ultimate hope that in eternal life we will find ourselves fed and whole.  Another way to think of this kind of feeding and healing, is not that of individuals but for the whole. Yes, bodies break down and decay, but that creats a balance of creation.  In the proper order of things, our bodies would enrich the soil, plants would grow up from that, animals and people would feed on the new life, and life would be in balance, even though each of us cannot remain in good health all our lives or live forever on this earth.
They are signs helping us to trust Jesus or his power.  They are saying, Jesus is different.  Look to him not just for physical food, but spiritual food that really satisfies, for meaning life and the healing of relationships and creation.
They are signs telling us what or who is important to Jesus and God, his Father.  Although Jesus has retired to a place very remote to get some rest from the crowds, still they come to him.  Jesus could have refused them, however he makes these people a priority and he breaks bread with them.  He honors their contributions to this meal.  This little child who offers the 5 loaves and 2 fish has always been a key character for me since I read the little Arch book as a 6 year old.  This kid does not worry if his contribution matters or could make a difference.  The child simply offers it.  What a lesson we could learn to simply offer what we have no matter how insignificant.  Don’t worry if it will be enough, Jesus is enough, and if we keep that in mind, our fear falls away, our paralysis.  With the faith of a little child, we bring our one can of beans, or we offer our small voice, or our small intellect or our small amount of time.  We don’t have to conquer world hunger or feed every refugee, we can offer what little we have, and it matters to Jesus and it matters to the one or two we have fed, and it inspires others to help one or two more and before you know it 5000 people have been fed. 
It matters to Jesus that those of us who can gather and contribute.  He could have gone door to door, but he didn’t.  He brought community together and you know that community sat down together, spent time relating to each other, and shared with each other.  The story could have gone this way, that Jesus saw all the hungry people and fed them.  But no, it says someone identified a child with something to share and you know when people saw the faith of that child, they looked into their own lunchbox, and perhaps they were ashamed they had been hoarding all their bread to themselves, that they hadn’t been the one with enough faith to sacrifice what would fill their own bellies.  Or maybe they were inspired and saw the value of what they could contribute, too.  Next thing you know, there are enough loaves, plus leftovers, enough, more than enough, an abundance. 
This is why we come together as a church, because we need each other and we need to learn from each other and we need to share, to give of ourselves.  Finally, and most importantly, we need to gather around Jesus who is enough and reminds us we don’t need to be afraid.  We can let go, and not just of the excess, but of everything.  That child gave the whole lunch away, not 10%, and there are times we will find ourselves doing the same, in death and perhaps other times as well.  Let me point out one example.  My heart was full of joy this week, because more than once this week, people in this congregation responded in love, took initiative and visited people who are sick and dying, prayed and sang with them, and sat with someone who was waiting for their loved one in surgery.  These folks saw they had something to give, did not doubt their own gift, but stepped out in response to someone in need, asked themselves what would be helpful to them in a similar situation, asked what they could do that might be comforting, and gave all they had for a moment, a few hours.  And the Kingdom of God broke into this world.  These signs all pointed to God’s love and care and healing and feeding.
These events may be signs telling us who Jesus is, and who he is not.  Jesus is our bread.  We gather around this table and we are fed with his own body and blood.  Jesus is life.  Jesus is love.  Jesus is sharing.  Jesus is.
Jesus is not king.  We call him King of Kings here, but he refused to be put on a throne.  He refused to be taken from the midst of the people.  I think of Pope Francis, how he regularly walks among the people, rather than hiding behind bullet-proof glass.  Some Popes might find their role an excuse to remove themselves from the people, but Pope Francis is right there washing the feet of the poor, listening to the heartaches of children, in the midst of the people.  He understands if he is to be a follower of Jesus, he cannot be removed.  God came to us as Jesus to walk in our midst, not be protected, defined, whisked away to a throne room to be controlled, to charge admission, to become a fountain of bread or power or healing or control over storms.
It says in the reading that the crowd tried to carry Jesus off to make him king.  We try to crown kings all the time.  We find a success and we try to crown it king, to worship at its feet, to be blessed by it.  We find a food that is good and try to make it king, chia seeds, or the paleo diet, quinoa, or bottled water.  We try to make kings of sports figures and politicians or movie stars, of policies and regulations, but really we’re just trying to crown ourselves, make ourselves look good, give ourselves an easier life, because we are afraid we aren’t enough.  The same was true of this crowd.
It was not Jesus the people wanted to be king over them, or they would have deferred to him what his rulership would mean or look like.  Neither can we dictate that Jesus was someplace and not another based on who is fed and healed, or who has access to Jesus or who lives or dies.  He came, as he clearly states, so that none may be lost.  None of us so small or insignificant or crumby that we don’t matter.  Every single bit of us matters to Jesus and when we regard each other we can remember that each one matters to Jesus and to the whole of creation, so each one is treated with respect, as vital to the health and wholeness of all.  And Jesus is enough.  Let that fearful little voice, that feeling in the pit of your stomach of dread, know that Jesus is in our midst.  Jesus is enough.  Jesus is gathering us together.  Leave your preconceived ideas behind and let Jesus be Jesus, shepherd, healer, nearby, provider, powerful friend, ally of the poor, gatherer, enough.
Why do some get miracles and others not?  If we don’t see a sign, it doesn’t necessarily mean that Jesus isn’t there.  We ask that we might open our eyes to signs around us and be the signs that point to God as King and Jesus as healer and the closeness of the Kingdom of God.