Search This Blog

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Easter 2017

Gospel: Matthew 28:1-10             
1st Reading: Acts 10:34-43            
2nd Reading: Colossians 3:1-4

                When I was a teenager, I felt the call to be a pastor.  My parents drove me up to Pacific Lutheran University, in Tacoma to attend a little workshop on becoming a pastor.  On the way there, that night it snowed and snowed.  The big rigs were fishtailing on the freeway.  We got to Tacoma and it seemed all the hotels were full.  We passed countless “no vacancy” signs.  Finally, in the distance I saw a vacancy sign and we found a place to stay in a little hole in the wall place.  The room was probably 10 by 10.  My parents slept in a double bed and they set up a cot for me.  And the next morning the sun was shining so brightly off the snow.  We made our way to PLU where I learned that this Gospel reading for this very morning is the proof in the Bible that women can be pastors.  Here these women come to the tomb to do women’s work, preparing Jesus’ body for burial, and they find a new reality, new life.  They find that Jesus is risen.  The angel tells the two Marys to go quickly and tell the Disciples that Jesus has been raised from the dead.  Even Jesus himself tells the women to go and tell the good news.  The first women preachers, a couple of thousand years ago!

                They never in their wildest dreams expected it that morning.  They walked with more than heavy hearts.  The events of the past few days weighed heavy on them.  Their grief was fresh. 

Last week I walked through Doernbecher hospital to visit my niece.  It was like the hallway was miles long and the lights beating down.  I caught sight of a little kid in a tiny hospital gown and was completely overwhelmed by the thought of 10 floors of suffering little kids, thinking of all their frantic parents, wondering what was next for my niece, if we would be saying goodbye to her sometime soon, what life would be like without her, how heavy this would weigh on our family.  I guess I had that kind of anticipatory grief.  I just felt like I was swimming—sound was distorted and the lights were weird and everything just felt heavy.  That’s the way I picture the two Marys that morning, their eyes still red from crying, the spring gone from their step.  Their friend, their Savior, the supposed Messiah, arrested, tortured, and killed in the prime of his life, at the height of his powers.  All the good he had done had been undone.  All his vibrancy, gone from this earth.  And his disciples hiding in fear, wondering if one of them would be next for execution.

                We live in a world where death is a supreme power.  We know we each will face it for our loved ones and for ourselves.  We try not to dwell on it, but we also can’t pretend it isn’t there.  The power of death is strong even as we live our lives.  We hurt each other.  We get sick.  We divide ourselves based on gender, age, class, race, citizenship status, and any other way we can think of to make ourselves better than another person.  For the Colossians, they were giving better communion to people of higher class.  The rich were fed first, with better food, on better dishes.  The poor were kept in their place.  The church in Colossae was using this meal of unity to make some people better than others.  Most of the time, we aren’t so different from them. Our world is full of hunger and disease and pain and divisions and death.  That is apparent to us.  And it was apparent to the two women named Mary and they were afraid. 

                As they walk, there is an earthquake, just then, when they enter the garden where the tomb is.  Something earth-shattering is about to happen.  Have you ever been so shaken up by something unexpected, you lost your balance?  This is both an inner earthquake, in which the two women named Mary are shaken to the core, and an actual earthquake in which the earth itself is responding to the presence and grace of God.  Something has truly changed.  A stronger power is replacing the power of death, because Jesus is risen—he has been raised, he continues to rise.

                Into this frightening world, Jesus speaks the words, “Do not be afraid.”  When I was a little kid I had night terrors about Jaws, the deadly shark.   I’ve been pleased so far that Jaws dreams are not genetic.  Sterling has fears and bad dreams once or twice a month, but for the most part he doesn’t seem to have as much fear as I had at his age.  These days, he has started to be afraid to enter a room at night when the light isn’t on.  Telling him not to be afraid, isn’t going to make any difference. I go in there ahead of him, turn on the light.  Jesus doesn’t just speak the words, either.  He goes before us and shows us that we’re not alone—we have each other, we have Jesus leading the way, and he doesn’t deny that the power of death is still frightening, there is a greater power and that is love. 

Easter is about love.  It was love that compelled the two women named Mary to get up and go out to the tomb, even though they were sad and afraid.  Jesus showed love to absolutely everyone.  Sometimes it was in the form of bread and fish.  Sometimes it was in the form of a truth that someone needed to face.  Sometimes it was simply in the form of his presence—we call that “showing up.”  Sometimes it was in the form of healing from disease.  Jesus showed them love and he showed love to people of all times and places, in fact he loved all Creation, and it was too much for our little minds to comprehend and that is why we crucified him.  We were so used our death-worshipping world, our divisive favoritism, our idols, that we couldn’t stand it and we tried to kill love.
                If Jesus had been like us, he would have come back and struck each one of us down.  Instead, he continued to be who he is, Love in the flesh.  Instead, Jesus brought us forgiveness and new life. 

                In the waiting room at Doernbecher, there is also a feeling of love that sustains many family members.  There is the hard work that the physicians and surgeons and nurses and cooks and housekeeping and anestesiologists and x-ray technicians and chaplains and everyone contributes.  There is the hope of healing.  It is not only a place of suffering, but a place of love.

The stone that was rolled away that day was not just the stone on Jesus’ tomb, but it was the stones on all our tombs.  The resurrection was first for Jesus, but it is also for us, each day.  We continually lock ourselves into these tombs of division and anger.  We still live in ways that hurt people, that hurt ourselves.  But there is a greater power that Jesus showed us in the way he lived, in the fact that he was willing to die rather than live in a death-dealing way, and in the way he rose from the grave, forgave all who denied and betrayed him, and gave new life to us all.  Whenever we close the tomb on ourselves, Jesus opens them again and invites us out into the hopeful garden of life.

                When the doors of our tombs have been opened, I have no doubt we will all be afraid.  The question is whether we will let it cause us to be like dead men, if we will be immobilized by our fear, or whether, like Pastor Mary and the other Pastor Mary this morning, we will continue to live the good news despite our fear knowing that with God there is grace and ultimately no need to be afraid, because death doesn’t win, love wins. 

                This morning and throughout the Easter season we proclaim, ”Christ is Risen!”  Some have asked, wouldn’t it be proper English to say, “Christ was raised”?  Yet that would put it in the past tense, something that happened long ago that has no bearing on Christ’s state today.  To proclaim, “Christ is risen!” has an ongoing feeling to it, that Christ is continually in a state of being risen.  The resurrection happened that Easter Day for Jesus, but it continues to happen each day.  When our loved ones die, we trust God who keeps God’s promises to raise them to eternal life, but each day, Jesus is calling us forward from our tombs to follow him.  This is our chance to proclaim with Mary and Mary, “He is risen!” Not that we would only proclaim with our voices, but also with our actions. Jesus is bringing an earthquake, an earth shattering reality to what we thought we knew, calls us from our mistakes and brokenness, he calls us from our grief and pain, he calls us from our divisions, he calls us from warfare, he calls us from blindness, and he breaks open that tomb.  It is earth shattering, as that light comes in.   We have free will to ignore it and stay where it is safe.  But Pastor Mary is calling us to something more, the something more that our heart has been longing for.  We’ll have to be courageous.  We’ll have to move forward despite our fear.  We’ll have to take risks.  But at the end of it all is a Savior calling us to eternal life, abundant life right now, and a most amazing peace and unity and love that is the whole point of living.


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

March 26, 2017

Gospel: John 9:1-41 
 1st Reading: 1 Samuel 16:1-13 
Psalm 23
2nd Reading: Ephesians 5:8-14

I have terrible eyesight, but I wear contact lenses, so you wouldn't know it. Before I came here, I worked at an optometry office for a year and a half and I there were only maybe 5 or 10 patients in the whole practice who had worse eyesight than I have. I give thanks that I wasn't born before vision correction was available, because there is very little I can do without my glasses or contacts. I remember the first time I got glasses, maybe you do, too. I knew I was missing a lot, but I had no idea what I was missing until I put them on and walked out of the optometrist's office into the sunshine and saw all those trees in the parking lot with actual leaves. I could see every last one. Who knew a tree had so many leaves!

God does not see as mortals see, our Old Testament reading from today tells us. No kidding! Blindness is not just a condition of the eyes. It is about our perspective and where we are seeing from. We see a lot better from the balcony than on the dance floor. It is a matter of the time of day, how light it is out and what direction the shadows are cast. In other words, the time of our life will affect how we see and what we can see, depending on context and experience and expectation. Sight is shaped by our culture and situation. I know that I am still astounded at what Sterling notices that I never even paid any attention to, probably since I was 5. He hasn't learned what society says is worthy of his attention. Now thanks to him, I see every fan in every film I watch and building I enter. And now I've started to see robots everywhere I go. I have selective sight and now this kid is teaching me to see again.

In the Old Testament reading, God is looking for a new king for Israel. Saul hasn't worked out so well. I wonder if God couldn't see what the problems would be with Saul, but then I remembered how God tried, over and over, to talk the Israelites out of it, saying a king would only serve himself. Every king was a compromise. After Saul, maybe the people are more open to God's suggestions. Ok, so they are trembling at the thought of going in an entirely different direction from Saul. Rather than to choose his successor from his sons or relatives, they are going with an entirely different family. People are just getting used to that idea of going with an entirely different family, when Samuel starts looking at each of Jesse's sons and he isn't finding the one he is looking for. The people have their view. They think they see what they need in a leader and that is age and experience and size and power. I love the suspense in this story as Samuel examines each one! His heart is sinking with each one. He's wondering if God is going to deliver on this promise of a good king or not. Jesse, the father, is probably getting twitchy. The older brothers are looking at the one younger than them with disgust, jealous of the power that is about to be given away, that was rightfully theirs—they deserve it, they've earned it. Jesse gets to the end of the sons. He doesn't ask God, “What's wrong with you?” Smart guy. Instead he says to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” There is one—one so unassuming, so unqualified, so small and powerless, so young and inexperienced, that we never even thought of him. He may as well be a baby in the crib—I guess we do get that with the baby Jesus, don't we? Here is one last son, a shepherd, a humble one, a caring one. The LORD looks on the heart. The heart reveals the heart of a shepherd, loyal, caring, guiding, watching, healing, protecting, with a wide perspective. And it doesn't hurt that he's easy on the eyes.

The Psalm backs up the view of the shepherd leader. That is how God is with us. This is a view of the peaceable Kingdom, what the Kingdom of God is like, what the world can look like if we let God's vision come to be. When God is our shepherd, we don't have any needs that aren't met. He leads us to places that are life-giving. He guides us, but he doesn't force us to go in a particular direction. Some scholars say the word lead is better translated, “supervised wandering.” When we are in his care, we won't be free from danger or suffering or pain—we will go through the valley of the shadow of death. But we will have God as our companion in that dark, terrifying place. Throughout this beautiful poem, we find a fierce but gentle companion, who gives us rest and direction, who protects us and brings us home. He prepares a table before us in the presence of our enemies—some scholars have said this enemy is death. That was new to me in this reading of it. And some scholars say the last line may be, “And I shall return to the house of the LORD for the rest of my days.” The psalm seems to allow us to wander, but never alone, it shows we have freedom, but that God is always close by and that there is a return and a reunion and a reconciliation and a warmth.

What does this have to do with seeing? I think we see God as either being with us and directing everything, or as absent, but maybe God is like a parent, walking nearby, available and vigilant, there if anything goes wrong, but also trying to give us the space to explore, experience, and see for ourselves. 

The reading from Ephesians is a before and after demonstration. “You were then darkness, but now light in the Lord.” God has the wider perspective and sees the before and after—how dark it was and hard to see, how far away we were, how dead asleep we were, how powerless and blind. But then God gave us the light to reveal what was really true, a free gift we didn't earn and didn't deserve, but that we needed to see clearly. God gave us Jesus, the light of the world, exposing all our flaws, but also exposing how we weren't alone and that others are also on this path toward light and recipients of this grace with us, and how we are part of a community of practicing Christians who need all the practice we can get. We get to use this light for good, to reveal the broken systems in our world, to shed light on people our society tends to ignore, to see more clearly what is good and loving. One of the risks of this reading is that it may make us smug, that we have the light, as Christians, and others don't. But as soon as we try to say we deserve it and you don't, or we have the light and you don't, it becomes darkness and is not of God.

The Disciples have internalized this viewpoint that people get what they deserve. That's why they ask Jesus if this man was born blind because he deserved it or his parents. But Jesus says it isn't about deserving. We are all disciples, really. We are constantly trying to make sense of our world by blaming people for their situation or thinking people earned the good life they live. It makes us feel safe from poverty and suffering. It encourages us not to do anything to help people who are hurting. We believe the homeless person is lazy or addicted. We believe the car accident was because of speed or alcohol. We believe the person is sick because they didn't exercise or eat right. Especially when we don't know what we can possibly do to help, we blame, because it helps us to justify our lack of help.

But God doesn't see as we see. The God who saw a king in a young shepherd boy, sees a brother or sister of Jesus in a person on a street corner, sees a community leader in a homeless person, sees value and vitality and life in someone who is sick—sees someone worth knowing, worth healing, not because of anything they have done or haven't done, but because of who they are, God's beloved child. 

The Pharisees couldn't see because they already thought they knew. They decide right away that Jesus can't come from God. They know what the sabbath is for. Resting. But what about rest for a man born blind. He has struggled every day. Today, Jesus gives him his sight. Jesus reveals that the sabbath is for healing, restoring, for drawing closer to God's kingdom reality, for the shepherd to care for the flock, for barriers between us to be broken down, for us to see with the eyes of God, to see as God sees, for worshiping and thanking God as this man does. God can heal the blind man in an instant, which had never been done before. But if the Pharisees didn't know they were blind and didn't want to see, would he heal someone against their will? It is like when you open the cage of a creature that doesn't know it has been caged. It will may stay in there. The same goes for the Pharisees.

The parents of the man born blind, couldn't get to the point of praising Jesus like their son does, of fully seeing him, because they were afraid of being rejected by the community and the religious leaders. They couldn't embrace the new life Jesus was offering because they thought it was more important to hold on to what they already had than to let go and take hold of what was entirely new and unexpected and ridiculous and Godly.

The question for us is what are our blind spots? Will we ever be able to see them or let go of everything we have ever known in order to take hold of the life that really is life?

This congregation has done this over the years. I would say that must have been what it was like at the very beginning of the congregation. Everything was new. Each step was a risk and a possibility. Each time you called a pastor, you took a risk, and you even risked losing members when you called Pastor Solveig, a female pastor. Each time we receive new members at this church, we risk being changed. And the council is excited to help us to take some new risks, especially engaging in the community, getting out there in groups in a visible way, maybe wearing matching t-shirts, and working on projects out there in the neighborhood. We have a blind spot, or a weak spot in putting ourselves out there. We have seen the church as in here. But maybe there is more to it than that. Maybe we will meet people we never would have. Maybe we'll get perspectives we never expected. Maybe we'll be strengthened. Maybe we need the community. Maybe the community needs us.
The man born blind received his sight immediately, but it was only when he was challenged by the neighbors and pharisees that he started to really see. He first says Jesus must be a prophet. When they tell him to give glory to God, rather than a human being, he uses one of the Pharisees own arguments against them, that “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” So he is starting to see that Jesus is from God. Finally, he stands with Jesus, having been driven out and rejected, and all he's got is Jesus, and he says, “Lord, I believe!” and falls down to worship him. 

May we become aware of our blind spots and go to the one who sees clearly and who can help us see. When we put on those glasses of our faith, may we find light and hope and share light and hope until all can see and until all are seen.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

March 19, 2017

Gospel: John 4:5-42 
1st Reading: Exodus 17:1-7
2nd Reading: Romans 5:1-11

Before I went to seminary I worked at National Frozen Foods Factory in Albany testing and grading vegetables. One of my favorite co-workers was a woman named Lenora. She had a dry sense of humor. Hilarious. She was a Seventh Day Adventist, and asked her pastor once about whether women could be pastors, because she knew I was going in to the ministry. She reported back to me that her pastor told her, “Women can't be pastors because no one will listen to them.” My first thought was, “Ok, so if someone will listen to them and accept their authority, then could they be pastors?” And I knew people who would listen to female pastors, including myself, so that argument didn't hold any water. I know we can't help who will listen to us and who won't, but that doesn't mean we don't have the Holy Spirit or gifts to share from God. That someone doesn't listen, seems to me, is their problem. They are the ones missing out and the only ones who can incline their ear. Even God was ignored in the wilderness of the Exodus. The Israelites often didn't listen to God. It wasn't a comment on God, but on the heard-heartedness of people. 

Very few people would listen to the Samaritan woman because they perceived barriers between her and them. It always seemed to me that the barriers we put are up are so random and artificial and have nothing to do with anything that is permanent or good. Most women would have gone to the well at daybreak to draw water. That she is here at noon, means she is probably not welcome amongst the other women. There are barriers keeping them apart. That she has had five husbands and now may be “living in sin” means that she was probably an outcast. Even if we know better, we start to wonder what's wrong with her that she can't seem to stay in a good relationship.

So when Jesus came to the well, and the Samaritan woman approached, there should have been a number of barriers keeping them from talking to each other. He is a single guy, there at the well. In the Bible, wells are places where the patriarchs like Jacob met their wives to be. They are the singles' bars of Bible times. However, Jews and Samaritans don't date, so that is clearly not Jesus' motive in speaking to her. He as a man should not be talking to her as a woman. He as a Jew should not be talking to her as a Samaritan. He, as God's son, the Creator of water, should not need to ask for water from her. He, a man, should not be talking to her, a woman, about important topics like their ancestor or about where people worship and how they worship. 

There are even more barriers between them and she doesn't shy away from telling him the key one, that she doesn't have a husband. She has no man to mediate her life in a world where she is not considered a full person. Maybe she know's Jesus is different from others who have judged her, since he already is talking to her when there are so many boundaries. Maybe she told him this to test him and see if this will be the place where the conversation is ended. Where does this man draw the line? Is he willing to ignore even this great barrier in order to have this conversation? 

As the conversation between Jesus went on, I couldn't help but think of an egg hatching. Inside that egg, the chick is safe, but the shell is a barrier. It keeps the chick from seeing and hearing and touching and feeling this world. It keeps out danger and infection. But the chick can't stay in the shell forever. The woman has been living this life inside the egg, but Jesus lives in another universe, one of freedom and danger and hope and new life, one of broken barriers. I hear the first crack of the barriers between Jesus and this woman when Jesus first speaks to her and asks her for help. The barrier is beginning to come apart. I hear a few more cracks when Jesus doesn't run away when she admits she has no husband. In fact when he begins telling her everything she's ever done, and it isn't all good, and he's still not scared, she is starting to see some daylight through the shell. And finally when he says, “I am he,” (meaning the Messiah) the pieces of shell are laying all around her and she's standing there stunned in the full light of day.

In this world that Jesus lives in, the barriers are nothing, the egg shells are getting in the way. Jesus goes around the area, ignoring the shells and inviting people to come out where they can see the fuller picture, the way God does. Maybe this woman even showed some readiness to come out of the shell when she pointed out Jacob's well, that Jews and Samaritans have a common ancestor in Jacob. She is ready to hatch, ready to dispose of these barriers between people that are not serving her or anyone else.

She is standing there stunned in the daylight, this Spirit reality that Jesus has been telling her about. And she experiences joy and freedom. She leaves her water jar behind. To me, this means, her needs were met. She didn't carry around this empty vessel, this symbol of all that was lacking in her as far as society was concerned. She left it there, because she was filled—she was filled with that living water Jesus had been talking about. And to prove it, she becomes a spring. Everyone she was avoiding, she goes to them and behaves the same way Jesus does with her. There are no boundaries in this new spirit reality. Nothing is going to stop her telling that he told her everything she had ever done, just as she knew the Messiah would. In verse 25 she says, “I know that Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” This “all things” is the same word she uses later when she says, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done.” The word for “everything” is the same “all things” that the Messiah will tell us. She knows because of how he treats her even when he sees all things about her that he is someone different and maybe just maybe different enough to be the Messiah.

So now the woman begins the fulfillment of what Jesus was saying at the well, that those who drink the water that Jesus gives will become a spring of water gushing up to eternal life. She went back to her people who had rejected her, and began gushing. There was no stopping her. As a result many Samaritans from that city believed in Jesus because of the woman's testimony and came to see for themselves whether Jesus was Messiah, the Savior of the world. Jesus did not choose her for abundant life because she was deserving or a good person. Jesus was there and she was open to it because she knew the pain of all those barriers. She had suffered. But her suffering did not beat her down. She persisted. Through her suffering, she continued to have hope. And hope does not disappoint us. It was not her good works, but her faith, a free gift of God's grace, that gave her hope in her suffering and made her the first that Jesus admitted to that he is the Messiah.

Jesus comes to us at the well, at the bar, at the water cooler, at the park, on the street corner, every single day, in the people that we meet who are in need. They may say, “Give me some food,” or “Give me a drink.” We are invited by the scriptures to see Christ there within them—If you remember in Matthew 25 Jesus says, “I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.” In that way, Jesus promises to come to us in the people in need all around us. And people are longing for more than just food and drink. They are longing for connection and respect and honest conversation. They want to break down the barriers that aren't serving us or them and be people together with a common ancestor and story, without judgment and shaming. They want to be seen. And we want to be seen. And we all want to hatch into the real world that God has made where there aren't barriers between us. 

Jesus was thirsty and tired. He asked for help from someone that others would never have accepted help from. He never got that drink of water as far as we know. Hopefully, while she was gone gushing to everyone that she found the Messiah, he dipped in that water jar and got his own drink of water. We know the Samaritan woman was fed by this encounter. Her soul was fed. She was reborn. But it wasn't a one-way street. Jesus, too, was fed by this encounter. He told the disciples he had food no one knew about that nourished him and that was this interaction. The Savior of the world was nourished, fed, and saved by a disgraced woman as she was nourished, fed, and saved by him and their conversation, as well. 

Several of us joked this week about putting on the church sign the quote, “Sir, you have no bucket.” We got lots of laughs every time we imagined what people would think driving by. But when I imagine the lack of a bucket, I see empty hands held out and how courageous that is. It is courageous to admit we can't meet our own needs. It is courageous to show a willingness to trust someone else to help. It is courageous to allow ourselves to be connected to others, to risk being hurt or misunderstood, in order to open ourselves to joy and fulfillment. Even Jesus held out his hands for help, here at the well, and many other times in his ministry. This year, when I read this story, I wondered about something, so I looked it up. Sure enough, it is also in the Gospel of John that Jesus, on the cross, says the words, “I thirst.” In fact these are his last words—words of need, seeking help and connection, courageous openness to others, breaking down barriers, still shattering egg shells on the cross and waking people up to Spirit reality that is way more real than these artificial barriers we keep up, these shells of protection between us that actually harm us.

Jesus is tap, tap, tapping on our barriers and egg shells, calling us to be born, to truly live, to step out into the light. It could be something scary tapping out there so maybe we should try to stay here forever. But this cramped space isn't doing it for us anymore and there is a longing in our hearts to connect and explore and gush forth.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

March 12, 201

Gospel: John 3:1-17 
1st Reading: Genesis 12:1-4a
2nd Reading: Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

Earlier this week, we were at the coast, and I actually remembered to bring my kite. I got my kite for Christmas when I was a teenager. Every once in a while part of the frame breaks. That's when I go get a dowel from the craft store and fix it up again. From the moment we got out of the car, the wind was trying to catch it. We got out to the beach and it went right up. Sterling kept wanting to let it out more and more, so we let it go pretty high. Of course, then someone has to reel it back in!

Kites are some of the best toys for kids, fun and inexpensive to make, interesting to design, and a joy to fly. Kids around the world fly kites, wherever there is wind enough to fly them. I made this kite 11 or 12 years ago. After church during the summer, we had an all-church activity and one of the days we made kites. The paint is faded now, as you can see, but I have such good memories of the generations coming together that Sunday to make kites.

Abraham didn't know about kites. He was living a flat kind of life, one-dimensional. He was getting older—the scriptures say he was about 75 years old. He was preparing to enter retirement and spend his later years puttering in the garden, volunteering, and watching Dancing with the Stars with his wife.

And then he heard a voice. It was a voice telling him that in some ways his life was just beginning. The voice told him that he would leave his extended family and his country and start over in a new land. The voice told him that a great nation would come from him. The voice told him that his name would be great and that people would be blessed through him—in fact all the families of the earth would be blessed. 

The voice did not offer assurance that the trip would be easy. The voice did not give Abraham money for the trip. The voice didn't even tell him what direction he would be going. However, whether it was a miracle or what, Abraham went as the LORD had told him. Abraham believed. He had faith. Faith is letting our life be shaped by the promise of God.

Abraham had been like a kite laying on the sand, a bit of wood and paper, limp and lifeless. This scrap of fabric has no reason to believe that it can fly, but the wind picks up and the fabric ripples. God attaches the string and the kite is off. It doesn't know where it is going. It doesn't know how this will end, but it soars and dips and dives and climbs, blown by the Holy Spirit, receptive to God's grip. 

Nicodemus was like a kite laying on the sand. He was a religious leader, so he was a self-important scrap. He was living a one-dimensional life, but it was a pretty good one. People looked up to him. He was comfortable. We don't quite know why he came to Jesus. He certainly heard from others about their experience with Jesus taking them from a one-dimensional life of laying there on the sand to being attached to the string and soaring on the wind of the Holy Spirit. Maybe he, too, felt a little of that breeze rippling him. Maybe he found that rippling disturbing. Maybe he was fearful that the comfortable life he had was about to change. Maybe he was excited about that rippling wind. Maybe he was hopeful that that comfortable life he had was about to change.

Nicodemus was a religious leader. We religious leaders definitely feel the rippling wind. We open the scriptures and we read about God's bold, healing, loving action, and we want to soar, but we are also very comfortable here on the ground. The situation we are in is working for us. We make excuses—our people aren't ready, we don't want to disrupt our family, maybe God is better served by being realistic. We don't always have faith to let go of what we know and fully trust God. We're just the same as the rest of you.

Nicodemus came to Jesus by night. He was tentative, cautious, hesitant, careful. Those might even be some of the qualities the temple was looking for in priests. Maybe Nicodemus came by night because he didn't want to be seen. Maybe he didn't want to upset his colleagues or people in his family. Maybe he didn't want the pressure of people who knew he had come to see Jesus telling him to follow Jesus or not to follow Jesus. Maybe he wanted to ponder what he learned in peace. 

He said to Jesus, “No one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” He was talking about Jesus' miracles. Nicodemus is different than Abraham. Abraham based his faith on God's promises, alone, without any proof. Nicodemus is basing his faith on what can be proven and maybe even looking for what Jesus can do for him in the form of a miracle. However, it says right there in Romans, that God justifies the ungodly, so even Nicodemus, even one-dimensional thinkers, even sinners, are invited into relationship and conversation with Jesus.

Jesus says, “No one can see the Kingdom of God without being born from above.” Jesus perceives that Nicodemus wants to see the Kingdom of God. He's seeing the signs, the miracles that point to the Kingdom of God and is interested in seeing more of them and maybe even the Kingdom itself. The word “born” shows that something new is beginning. “From above” can also mean “again” and “anew.” Jesus knew that Nicodemus may not be there, yet, but he knows that God brings new life, so all he could do was plant a seed about what God might have in mind for Nicodemus and maybe someday it would start to grow and even produce new life in someone like him.

Nicodemus takes this literally and doesn't understand how anyone can be born twice. Jesus says that there are different kinds of birth. Nicodemus is looking at it one-dimensionally—that it is about the flesh. For Nicodemus it is about what we can see and touch and feel, here on earth. For him there is one birth. But we can look at it this way, is the kite only born when the fabric is sewn or when the frame is made? Or maybe the kite is born on its maiden flight. Or maybe it is reborn each time the frame is repaired. In the same way, we are born once into this world, but there are many births. We may be reborn when we leave home or when we first fall in love. We may be reborn when we go to therapy or Spiritual Direction, when we become a parent, when we become a grandparent, and when we die. Certainly we say we are reborn when we are baptized, and that we are invited to remember our baptism and be reborn each day.

Jesus was born fully human and fully divine, fully flesh and blood, and fully Holy Spirit, Creator wind blowing, breathing life into him. During his ministry, Jesus opened his sail and flew. He flew to the poor and rejected. He flew to the lepers and 5 times divorced. He flew to the children and the widows and the blind. He flew to you and me. There was nowhere he would not or could not fly. But such beauty and freedom is threatening to those who have lain on the ground year after year and wanted to keep others from getting up and flying with the Holy Spirit in all kinds of unpredictable directions and to all kinds of heights. So they cut his string and he came back down to earth, landed just like this, pointing straight into the earth, making a cross. He was lifted up on a cross to humiliate him and kill him, to prove he was powerless. But God truly lifted him up into glory when God raised him from the dead, and not only him, but he is the first born of the new creation. Because of him we can all fly high, not knowing which way the Holy Spirit might lead us or what kind of people we might meet, never promised an easy path or given any extra spending money for the trip, but we have the joy of flying, even though we know we will dive, too, and crash, but that freedom and new life are ours because of the free gift of God's grace.

Even Nicodemus' one-dimensional thinking could not get in the way of Jesus' saving power. Even priests, with our own self-interest and complacency and comfort, cannot keep the Spirit's power from taking God's people to soar in new life. Nicodemus appears once more in the Gospels. John 19:38-42 “38 After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. 39 Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. 40 They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. 42 And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.” Certainly this conversation with Jesus must have been echoing through Nicodemus' mind the whole time he was preparing Jesus' body. That is a very intimate act. Was he wondering where were Jesus' miracles when it came to saving his own life? Touching Jesus' flesh must have reminded him of his questions about flesh and spirit. He may have wondered about the ascending to heaven and descending from heaven that Jesus mentioned before. And maybe he even thought of Jesus lifted up on the cross and what he said about those believing having eternal life. He must have wondered was there more than this life?

Certainly he looked at Jesus' death as an end. But as he anointed Jesus' body, was it the beginning of a stirring of his Spirit to let his life be changed, to soar with the Holy Spirit, to have faith, to be born anew? Did he start to dream of more than what this world has to offer? Did he start to see God's dream?

So what are we going to do? We are kites and the Holy Spirit is blowing! Will we let it take us to soar? Will we risk flying? Or will we lay here on the shore? Can you feel the rippling breeze? It is calling you to new life. God gives us a dream of a better world, where there is abundant life, where everyone has enough to eat, where everyone is clothed, where no one has too much and no one has too little, where every tear is dried, where the sick are tended to, where widows and orphans are part of community, where everyone's gifts are needed, where all are forgiven. God gives us the courage, the faith, to open ourselves to the blowing of the Holy Spirit, not knowing by what paths it will take us or how many crash landings we will have, but only that God is with us lifting us and loving us.

One problem that I have with the kite metaphor is that maybe we think we are each individual kites and that we make a decision to accept Christ and then he lifts us each one, unrelated to the other. So here is my revision. Maybe we are all the tail of the kite, Jesus at the head, and not only people, but all the world, all the cosmos, all Creation. As he rises, so do we, collectively part of something bigger, the body of Christ, God's vision being realized for our world, God's Kingdom. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. God's love ties us together with Jesus our brother and together we soar and dive and respond to the Holy Spirit.

Monday, February 27, 2017

February 26, 2016

1st Reading: Exodus 24:12-18 
2nd Reading: 2 Peter 1:16-21
Gospel: Matthew 17:1-9

We went camping last summer on Orcas Island for 5 nights. It seemed like the tent was always in disarray. I don't need things to be absolutely tidy when we're camping, but if I've made the bed and sorted the laundry, you'd think it might stay that way. It was raining quite a bit and Sterling was going in the tent and jumping on the bed and throwing blankets and pillows all over. He just has so much energy. One of the families we met had a boy about Sterling's age. His parents had this brilliant idea. They brought an extra tent just for their kid to jump around in. That preserved the sleeping tent for actual sleeping and kept the mess and chaos contained to the other one for the most part.

Maybe poor Peter is just trying to keep the chaos contained when he offers to make three tents. However, this doesn't seem to be the direction God is going, so back down the mountain they go to heal the sick on their way to Jerusalem and the cross. 

Our family goes camping for several reasons. We go camping to get away from home. We go camping because it is a fun, inexpensive vacation. We go camping to experience nature. We go camping to break up our routine. We go camping to be healed by nature. I was just watching Big Bang Theory, so it must be true. Leonard and Penny and Sheldon and Amy were heading out to spend time at a cabin in the forest. They were talking about the power of nature—that people who walk through campus to their college classes retain more of what they learn than if they drive there. Some of our favorite memories are our camping trips.

One thing Sterling loves best about camping and hiking are the waterfalls. There are several waterfalls on Orcas Island, and on out hike Sterling didn't want to leave the waterfall. It was so loud and powerful and awe-inspiring! 

Peter and James and John are having a similar experience. They are having this incredible experience of awe and wonder. They have summited the mountain and they could stay all day. They are basking in God's presence. Their enthusiasm and excitement actually cloud their vision, though. They are so excited about the first part of their experience, seeing Moses and Elijah, that they don't realize that there is more, that God's not done yet. Peter tries to capture the experience. He's got his Instamatic Camera there and he wants everyone to squeeze in for the shot. He wants to preserve this moment for always. But he doesn't realize that the snapshot he is trying to take will not at all resemble the experience he is having. This experience is part of a bigger picture, the whole history of experience of God's presence with us from the beginning of time, through Moses and Elijah, in and out of exile, leading to Jesus and his ministry and this moment. But God has more. God interrupts Peter. God speaks about Jesus and who he is and scares the daylights out of the disciples. Then, Jesus reaches out to them and makes contact. They see Jesus alone. They go down the mountain. They heal people and fail to heal people. They misunderstand and they get it. They are welcomed in Jerusalem to shouts of Hosanna. They share the Passover. They deny their Rabbi and Savior. He is betrayed and arrested. He goes to trial. He is killed in a brutal way. He is in the tomb three days. He appears to them on the road. And on an on. 

They don't want that moment on the mountaintop to end, but this moment is revealing that God has always been with them, in slavery in Egypt, in the wilderness, in the exile, on the sabbath, at each meal, in every relationship, in every moment. When that vision and that voice go, who do they see, but Jesus himself alone, the voice still echoing, “Listen to him!” Once in a great while we stand in the midst of a vision, so convinced and overwhelmed to be in God's presence. But normally we stand next to an ordinary-looking guy and we're still standing in God's presence. Or we're at the foot of the cross weeping, or at the deathbed of a friend, weeping, and we're standing in God's presence. Or we're driving past a family doing homework under the lights of 7-11 because they are homeless and we are standing in God's presence. 
We do take a hint from our son and stand and enjoy waterfalls. Why rush off? But waterfalls are rare, and God's presence and power is not. Moments of awe upon the mountaintop are rare, but God's presence and power is not. Once we wrenched Sterling away from this captivating moment, we found other signs of God's presence with us. Up the trail a ways, we crossed several streams that eventually feed into the waterfall. There is something so beautiful and holy about a the trickling of a little stream. It's music is unmatched. God is present. 
We stood among some amazingly tall trees covered with moss or some overturned trees with the roots shooting up into the sky, and we felt the dramatic presence of God. In that moment time is collapsed. We can picture the tree seed on the ground. We can picture it taking root. A tiny tree, then growing larger, birds nesting, insects crawling, and God there through it all. Then in a moment, the tree falls, and we can look into the future. All the people who walk past this dramatic reminder of how small we are, the slow decay of the downed tree, all the creatures that live in it and chew it up, until it becomes the soil that grows another tree. Is God only there in the dramatic moment where it takes our breath away? It is more breathtaking to picture God's presence through the whole journey.

Wednesday night begins our Lenten journey. These 40 days in the wilderness correspond with Jesus' 40 days of fasting in the wilderness, cementing in him and convincing us of what kind of savior he would be and who his ministry would serve. These 40 days correspond with the 40 years that the Israelites spent wandering around in the wilderness, when they were discovering what it meant that God was their God and they were God's people and when they were learning to trust God.

That's what Lent is for us. It is a time to get back to basics. We're not going to be carrying heavy loads on this wilderness camping trip. We pack light. That's part of trusting. We're learning who we are. That is partly about what we can live without. The Israelites wandering 40 years in the wilderness had become so accustomed to being slaves that they kept begging God to take them back to Egypt. It takes some time to break habits. We get to consider in what ways we are enslaved. Who are the masters that we let rule over us? In what ways have we been bound to addictions, and partisanism, and the almighty dollar, and other's expectations? We learn in these 40 days that God is leading us to freedom, even if it is uncomfortable and new. We learn who we really are without all that extra stuff, comforts we had in Egypt or distractions that keep us from freedom. We learn what we're made of, what we're capable of. And we learn who and what we are not, namely in charge, or entitled. We learn in 40 days how much we really need God and really need each other. We learn to pray. We learn to be generous. We learn to love. And we learn to receive love—not the kind of approval of everything we do, but the kind of love that challenges us and makes us think for ourselves and makes us work together, and makes us love our enemies.

Lent is a time to practice noticing that God has always been with us, to train ourselves to see God's presence with us in this moment and this one and this one, whether it is a roaring waterfall of a moment or a little musical trickle, whether it is a dramatic tree root, or a little sliver under our finger, whether it is a moment of joy or a moment of grief. It is a time to let go of the thought that God is only with us in the dramatic moments. It is a time to feel Jesus reach out to us and see Jesus himself alone.

Moses stood on the mountain and he was surrounded by a cloud. I can't imagine how disorienting that must have been. Peter stood beholding this image of Moses and Elijah talking to Jesus and he was completely disoriented. He knew he stood in the presence of God, but he didn't know what to do with that. He thought he would enshrine it, put a leash on it, capture it so he'd know where he could always find it. We stand disoriented in God's presence. As soon as we try to explain it and define it and capture it, it gets away from us, because God's presence isn't in one place or time, but it is always and forever and everywhere. We get to look for that presence in the moment and the next moment and in each other and in the stranger and in the enemy. 

God can't be contained either in a tent or any of our explanations or ideas of who God is. So God invites us, not to contain the chaos and disorientation, like the family with the extra tent, or Peter trying to build three tents, but to walk in that disorientation and chaos with God by our side, and to walk with our brothers and sisters who are in it and let them know they aren't alone. We're invited to walk down that mountainside into the thick of it, to eventually pack up the campsite and get back to work, healing, loving, walking, looking, and listening, until we are aware of God's presence constantly and powerfully with us and our neighbor.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

February 19, 2017

Gospel: Matthew 5:38-48 
1st Reading: Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18
2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23

When I was a kid, all the rules were around not inconveniencing dad. Don't talk with your mouth full because that irritated dad. Go to bed at 8 pm, so that dad could have the TV to himself. Do whatever mom said, or she would complain to dad and interrupt the ball game. Inconveniencing dad brought harsh consequences, so we found that we got by pretty well by avoiding dad, and sadly most of us kids are still doing so. We could break the rules, as long as dad didn't find out.

God's rules, the 10 Commandments, invite us to consider how our actions might impact another person, but this time it isn't dad, it is our neighbor. Our neighbor is not an afterthought and inconvenience. Our neighbor is central and essential—to be considered first, partly because when neighbors cooperate and relate well, it is good for everyone. And you may remember when Jesus was asked, “Who is my neighbor?” he gave the story of the good Samaritan, a story about a foreigner who was a good neighbor to a man attacked by robbers and left by the road to die. 

God's rules, unlike my father's rules, are not to be followed out of fear, but for our own good and for abundant life to be lived by each person. Not only does God require us in the commandments to consider our neighbor, but God has done them for us. In everything, God puts us first, even though we are often bad neighbors to God. It is God who makes the grapes grow and shares that bounty with us. We are the needy in God's eyes. Likewise, we are to share the gleanings with those in need. God tells us the truth and doesn't hide things from us. God doesn't take advantage of us or our disabilities to hurt us. Likewise, we don't do that to others. God judges with justice, without favoritism. That is how we are to behave toward each other. God is love. So we as God's people are loving, too. There is nothing that God asks of us, that God doesn't do for us, first, and in order for God's food, God's justice, God's love to reach all of God's children, we cannot be hoarding it and stealing it, we must let that love flow out to our neighbor. 

The times I treasured with my dad, were the times he modeled a life of love, generosity, fearlessness, and kindness. I treasured the times on the church softball team, when he was the coach, stretching himself to open the game in prayer, cheering on the players, and relating to our neighboring churches. I treasured the times our family, though needy, would put together a box of holiday surprises for some family worse off than us with food and presents and goodies, and we would all pile in the minivan. We kids would wait in the car down the block and here would come our parents running to hide so the person would never know who was so thoughtful and kind as to bring a little light into an otherwise dark time.

The softball team and the secret boxes of gifts were times when we looked beyond what was required and reveled in God's generosity to us. They were acts of resistance against all that divides us. In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus talks about the rules and laws. We have already read in Paul's letter to the church in Corinth that our rules and laws are foolish. Jesus takes those rules and laws and shows us what to do to resist foolish rules and laws. He names how things are done in in his time and he proposes an alternative that exposes the foolishness and lack of justice of the law in the first place.

Laws allow violence. In Jesus' time, they allowed taking from someone who took from someone else. In times more ancient than Jesus', a village might be burnt to the ground and all the people killed because someone insulted someone else. If you remember, in the Old Testament, when Joseph's sister Dinah was raped, Dinah's brothers told the family that if they were all circumcised then their sister would marry her attacker. If you remember, they agree to be circumcised, and while they are recovering, Joseph's brothers attacked and killed the whole family. When we read that story we never know what to be most horrified about, because the whole thing is disturbing. However, as time went on, people decided, “The punishment must fit the crime.” Let's make this proportional. If someone puts out an eye, then only an eye can be taken, not the death penalty, and not the whole village. That's what “An eye for an eye” meant then—an improvement.

There are rules. We may obey or disobey. When they are unjust or foolish, we often choos fight or flight. Now Jesus is suggesting another way. It is a shocking way. Jesus says, “Do not resist and evildoer.” Let me explain. It sounds like we should be doormats. However this word began to be translated this way with the King James version, because King James wanted the people to do whatever he told them and not resist. However the sentence really says, “Do not violently resist the evildoer.” Jesus is suggesting a nonviolent approach that is neither rolling over and accepting unjust laws, not taking up arms and fighting and killing to get our way. He suggests a third way. This is what it looks like.

If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also. People hit with the right hand, in Jesus' day. The left hand is unclean. If you use it, you have 10 days of purification you have to go through. To hit someone on the right cheek with the right hand is to backhand someone. It still means the same thing today. It is an insult. If someone turns their cheek, it is cheeky. It is daring someone to hit them again. Only this time, it would have to be a hit with the front of the hand, which is a hit between equals. To turn the other cheek is to assert yourself as an equal and to defy the other person.

If someone makes you carry their pack a mile, which was the law, carry it two miles. Remember when Simon of Cyrene was compelled to carry Jesus' cross as they walked up to Golgotha? That was an example of this rule. So Jesus says to carry it two miles. A soldier could ask for one mile, but any further than that, the soldier could be punished. Can you imagine the soldier on the side of the road begging for the return of his pack? To carry the pack further is an act of resistance that shows the foolishness of the original law.

These acts of nonviolent resistance are surprising—they aren't the usual reaction, so people will have to stop and think about how to best respond. And that's what God wants us to do, is not to take the rules for granted or go through the motions, but to question what is this law? Who does it benefit? Who does it hurt? Does it fit with the rules and laws that God gives us? Does this match how God treats us? 

Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. It isn't going to happen. But the word for “perfect” actually is “whole” or “complete.” We can't be whole or complete without each other, without our enemy, without the foreigner, without the one we reject, Jesus. But Jesus has chosen to knit us together into one body and we get to work together doing God's work, healing the world, loving, forgiving, and praying for our enemies, and resisting evil and injustice.

God resists our unjust rules. Our rules say that you have to be like us to fit in and belong. Jesus says all are God's children. Our rules say you have to earn your rewards. Jesus says we all fall short, but we all need food, shelter, and love. Our rules say you must have your papers to live in this country. Jesus says, “Love your neighbor.” God constantly reminds the Israelites, “You shall not oppress a foreigner. You know the heart of a foreigner, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.” Exodus 23:9 “When a foreigner sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 19:33-34. Over and over, God reminds them of where they came from and gives them laws that put their neighbor's needs in front of them, because what is good for the neighbor and foreigner is good for everyone and means that God's love impartially reaches every last person, because we are all God's children.

When I think of all that God has done for us, how God has taken us from being broken, lost, sinners, who have been fearful and alone, to welcoming us into God's family and loves us as sons and daughters, even though we have done nothing deserving of that love, I feel called to open my heart, to share the gleanings from the great harvest. And when I think of all the forces that defy God and deny people their humanity in this world, I get very frustrated and angry. I go between wanting to give up and imagining myself using violence to get my way, even though I am a peace-loving person and I know that violence accomplishes nothing. Jesus invites us to be creative. Jesus invites us to find a third way to resist injustice, a way that reveals it for what it is. I don't know what that looks like and I know I won't discover it on my own. Only in community, in the body of Christ, do we find the whole. Our bodies can be easily crushed, but not the body of Christ. It was once crushed, but rose to new life. So we won't give up, but we'll work together to resist the evil forces of this world until everyone in God's family, and in God's creation, knows God's love.

I had a most heartbreaking relational meeting this week with the pastor of the Church of God of Prophecy, the church that uses this space and regarding whom the council is starting to use the language of “partner” rather than “renter.” We are partners in the body of Christ. We do this ministry in the community in two different languages, but we all love God and our unity is in Christ.

The Church of God of Prophecy consists mainly of undocumented immigrants who came to this country to give their children a better life. Our economy needed them. Now many of them have an uncertain future. This family has had direct experience of law enforcement putting a gun in the face of a child. Now several families fear deportation and being separated from their two young children who will not be permitted to go to Mexico because they are not Mexican citizens, but would be put up for adoption by strangers. I think of the law and I ask, is this how God treats us? Does God throw out the immigrant? Does God separate families? 

I asked Pastor Juan what we could do to help. He said he'd like a list of telephone numbers of people to call to pick up his kids if he is picked up by Immigration Enforcement Officers, someone who could look after the kids until guardians and friends can get there. I said I would talk to you about it. And I asked if we could have a prayer service together. Our unity is not based on the language we speak. It isn't based on the color of our skin. It isn't based on our documentation or place of birth, it is in our Savior Jesus, who died for us, who died for them that they might have new life, that no one should live in fear, that we would all be brothers and sisters despite our differences. Some might accuse me of being political. However, I don't think either party has offered us solid answers regarding immigration. We have a problem of families being ripped apart, of creating orphans when we can't support the foster kids we already have. So we get to consider, who is my brother and sister and I hope, like the Samaritan on the road, we find ourselves pulling people out of ditches instead of pushing them in. I think we may find ourselves being ministered to by the one we persecuted and could never have imagined coming to our aid. Pastor Juan said on Monday through his son Juan Jr., “Thank you for all you've done. From the beginning, you've all been very welcoming.” It was gratitude to you all, he was expressing. And he said, “We love this country. That hasn't changed.” 

Whether you think this is an unjust law or not, I hope you will consider the human laws that we live with and instead of taking them for granted to look and see who they benefit and whether they are foolish. And if they are, let us find a way to stand against them, as Jesus stood against the foolish powers of death and handed us new life as a free gift of God's grace.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

February 12, 2017

Gospel: Matthew 5:21-37 
1st Reading: Deuteronomy 30:15-20
2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 3:1-9

I went pretty much by the book with my baby boy when he was born, like a lot of first-time mothers are. I hear the first one, you go by the book, and after that you've learned more how to think for yourself and feel a little more free to experiment. Since my baby was growing properly and eating what I put before him, going by the book worked for me. It was 6 months of mother's milk only. He grew so fast I had wrist supports for a few months because my arms couldn't support his weight. On his six month birthday, he had his first food, ground up oats mixed into milk. After that he was introduced to one food at a time for a week, adding to what he already had tried, until he had all the food groups. All his food was organic, all was homemade. All went together to make a healthy bouncing baby boy.

But I didn't just give him that food to make him bigger. Some of it was to make him smarter. Most of it was to keep him healthy. And part of it was the experience of sitting down to a meal together, looking one another in the eye, communicating, and being a family.

God also likes feeding God's children. We begin with the food that is easier for us to digest. Life is given to us in more easily digestible terms. There are good guys and bad guys, certain rules to obey without question, and we're not expected to handle information we're not ready for. We accept what other people tell us, our parents and our pastor. We don't have a lot of choice about it.

But as we grow in faith, we try foods we've never tried before, we're encouraged to eat things we don't particularly like, and we start having to chew and use a utensil. As we mature, we learn more about our world, we find out that many things are shades of grey instead of being so clear cut, and we're expected to communicate with people we disagree with in other ways than hitting and yelling. We have a chance to question everything we held as true just because our parents taught us, and we are invited to examine the faith that was handed down to us and decide whether to make it our own.

Of course our faith journey is always on the move—what we could stomach before, we can't anymore, and what our bodies and minds once needed changes. We find that faith isn't just between me and God, but that we're part of something bigger than ourselves. It is both a pain in the neck and other key areas, because other followers don't do things the way I like, and it is a blessing because the gifts of others fills the gaps in my own gifts and we can do so much more together. As we grow in faith, we begin to see God in the struggles and blessings in the conflicts and find peace in the storm. And at times we go back to eating baby food. Sometimes a tall glass of milk just hits the spot. Sometimes there is nothing more satisfying than a bowl of Cheerios.

Moses has led his people out of slavery into the desert. They suffered under slavery, however they liked being spoon-fed. They long for the food they ate in Egypt. But God is leading them on a wilderness walk to teach them who they can trust to provide their food. The taste of freedom is new to them. They aren't sure they are ready for such a thing, because it requires them to think for themselves and to go through some trials. However God is feeding them and continues to offer it to them. God knows this wilderness experience will mature their faith and their relationship with God. God hopes that their wilderness experience will change their hearts. God gives them the commandments and ordinances and decrees not to control them, but to give them life,--long life, abundant life.

Paul is writing to the Corinthians. He brought this community into this world from infancy and fed them by hand. He loves this church in Corinth, these believers. But he has some new expectations of them, that they would grow up a little bit and act their age. Instead, they are breaking into factions and arguing and fighting. Paul is offering them some food that is a little challenging to their pallets and that is the reminder of who provides food for us all, God, and who we owe our allegiance to, God.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus is teaching the Disciples. They've tried the food that is the commandments. Many of them probably feel like they are doing ok on them. The commandments have become staples of their diet. However, Jesus is challenging them to try some new dishes. They will recognize some familiar ingredients, but God wants more for them. The commandments had become a way of justifying themselves, a checklist for people to say they were better than others. However, God wants more than a checklist. God wants a changed heart, a changed orientation, a focus away from showing what a good person I am, to putting God first, a change from worshipping myself and making idol of my works, to worshipping God and living a new abundant life. 

God wants to change our hearts so that we can receive new new life and live abundantly. We show what is in our hearts by our actions. God isn't interested in the actions alone, going through the motions of bringing gifts to the altar. Going and doing the mature thing, being reconciled to people you have hurt or disappointed, is what God wants to see. That is going to make for abundant life for you, more than coming to God with your gift of money or flocks or grains. 

I read the scripture about tearing your eye out or cutting off your arm, and I am often puzzled. It is such a violent image. At times I have heard people use this passage to say that if a member of the body of Christ sins then they should be cut off or shunned. However, because it is right next to this passage about going to your brother or sister who you have wronged and making amends, I can't believe that is what Jesus means. Also, that doesn't sound like Jesus, to me. 

This reading struck me in a different way, this time. How often do we cut off people who we disagree with? How often do we tear other people apart with no regard to how much God loves them? Why are we so hard on other people, violent even, with our words and actions? Why are we not appalled at the idea of cutting people off, at least as appalled as we are at the idea of tearing our own eye out. Instead, we have to grow up. We have to know that if we cut off one another, the same as if we cut off even a small part of our body, the whole body suffers. We have to stop cutting each other off just because we disagree. Our unity is in Christ, period. 

Instead of tearing one another apart and destroying the body of Christ, we are invited to do some self-reflection. When we feel self-justified, and that we've done everything right, we are invited to examine our thoughts, our hearts, and turn to God. When we feel like we have what we deserve, God reminds us that we all fall short, that none of us has a leg to stand on when we start to examine our hearts. We all stand on the same footing whether we have committed murder or just thought about it, whether we are divorced or have committed adultery in our imagination, whether we say the “F word” or “I swear!” None of us is innocent. We all need God's mercy and love and generosity. God reminds us that we don't create all the good things we have. God reminds us where all good things come from, not from what we deserve, but because of God's abundant grace. And God reminds us of what all these good gifts from God are for, and that is for sharing, not for hoarding or holding over someone's head. Let's all take the challenge and take a good long look at ourselves and how we can better reflect the light and love of Christ, throw out what doesn't reflect that and mature into the people of faith God is calling us to.

Today, we are all invited to sit down at the table together and eat the food God has prepared for us, and all be nourished. We are invited to grow up and sit down with others who are in the body of Christ with us. We are invited to enjoy the meal. We are invited to grow our faith. We are invited to look one another in the eye and have conversations and be curious and be honest. We have a lot to digest, a lot to absorb, and the biggest part is how loved each one of us is. And when we know there is enough love to go around, we can just sit back and enjoy the meal in the presence of God and all God's children.

Before us is a spread of delicious, nutritious, nourishing food. Beside us are our brothers and sisters and even some we might call enemies, co-workers with us. Around us shines the light of God. There is peace. There is life. There is hope. Blessings are shared. Faith grows. People act in mature ways. We look to God, not to ourselves. We remember what really matters. We put our faith and hope in what is good and what lasts. We examine our own lives and make changes for the better. We try things we've never tried and we find fulfillment. All are fed. All are loved. All have gifts to share. All belong to God. We don't have to wait until the next life to live in the Kingdom of God where every mouth is fed and everyone is invited to the table. This peaceable Kingdom is desperately needed here on earth, in fact Jesus came to bring it through each of us. 

Gather round the table of God. The dinner bell is ringing. All are invited to the meal of life. Receive God's nourishing love. Share your bread with others. Be nourished. Receive health. Take your place in the family and grow up in faith to welcome others to the table until all know God's love.