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Monday, January 21, 2019

January 20, 2019

John 2:1-11         
Isaiah 62:1-5       
1 Corinthians 12:1-11
                Dear King of Kings, I am overwhelmed by your love.  I have spent 1/3 of my life ministering with you.  It is time for me to go.  I have so many feelings about that.  I feel sad.  I feel grouchy.  And I feel grateful, joyful, hopeful, and even happy.  I have to go.  It is time.
                You ready for some good news? 
                You are full of gifts!  It wasn’t just the church in Corinth that had gifts.  This is a beautiful, healthy, congregation.  Through all its turbulent history, you have worked through the trials, set limits about what you’d put up with, held each other close, laughed, cried, and prayed, prayed, prayed.  And you worked hard!  Together!  No one can take your history away from you, what’s made you who you are as a congregation.  What a gift that history has been and now this ministry becomes part of that history.  Some of it has been great.  Some of it has been painful.  Some of it has been messy.  You’ve tried to learn everything you could, so that you didn’t repeat our mistakes too many times, but there’s plenty of grace to go around.  That’s another gift, grace.  You’ve got God’s grace, forgiving, loving, freeing.  You’ve got grace for each other, to call each other on what needs to be said, but to remember we’re all human and fallible, so let’s try again. 
                Not only does the congregation have gifts, but all you individuals have gifts.  You have gifts of teaching, of truth-telling, of time, of listening, of quiet support, of prayer, of openness.  I’ve seen you use them hundreds of thousands of times.  Let your gifts bring you together and compliment one another.  Keep on sharing those gifts with the body of Christ, the larger community, and everywhere.
Keep those gifts flowing.  Keep your financial gifts flowing.  They don’t belong to you, anyway.  They are God’s.  Don’t withhold your giving out of protest of something that’s not going your way.  Keep on volunteering and showing up and praying.  Keep sharing your gifts, because that’s what God gave them to you for.  They are for times of discomfort and uncertainty at least as much as for times of joy and ease. 
                Put aside your humility for a second and listen.  It isn’t just my skewed view of things.  You are beautiful.  You are beloved.  You have a lot to offer another pastor and visitors and this neighborhood.  Stand up tall.  I have been saying to everyone else, but maybe I haven’t said to you until now, how spoiled I’ve been to be here because of God’s gifts and blessings through you.  I’m not saying it has been a total walk in the park, but where it matters, you show up, you face your challenges with courage, and you have everything you need, with God’s help, to go where God is leading you.
Which brings me to the next gift.  God is with you.  My favorite psalm is 139.  “If I climb up to heaven, you are there; if I make the grave my bed, you are there also. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand will lead me and your right hand hold me fast.”  There is nowhere we can go that God isn’t with us.  God’s been the faithful one, yes working through me, working through you, but it is God who is ultimate good and never abandons us.  That’s not going to change.  God is with you and will continue to be.  God is with me and will continue to be.  God’s work continues in a different way.
How can I thank God enough for all God’s gifts to me through you?  You were there for me when my child was born and walked with me through 7 years of motherhood.  You had faith enough to send me on a sabbatical.  You honored my days off.  You poured yourself into the ministry here.  You took leaps of faith.  You visited each other.  You offered me so much forgiveness.  You stuck it out.  Keep up the good work!  I will watch you from afar and pray for you and cheer you on.
So here we are at the wedding at Cana.  Jesus’ first miracle.  He doesn’t heal anyone.  He doesn’t even provide something necessary for life.  He keeps the party going.  This time is difficult for me, for us.  But Jesus saves the best wine for when there is only water left.  We’ve had lots of wine together, over the years.  Now it feels a little more like water, like the chaos, like a death or many little deaths.  But Jesus is here.  And Jesus is turning our water into wine.  This worship is a party, a celebration of all that God has been doing.  We sing a little, we eat a little, we communicate, we smile, we are gathered with our host Jesus.  And I hope you’ll stay for the after party in a little while and celebrate, because we are resurrection people.  We can go through the tough stuff, knowing that we’re not alone, that the community gathered is the body of Christ risen for the world, that there will be celebrations and Jesus never misses a party.  It’s a mixed feeling when he turns the water into wine.  Not that many people witness it.  Probably most of the people who drank it, didn’t even know it was miracle wine.  But then to think of Jesus at the last supper and in communion offering wine as his blood poured out for us.  All the emotions are mixed up together, kind of like they are today.  Gratefulness, sadness, grief, fear, hope, joy, love.  Jesus’ first miracle shows us what kind of a Savior he’s going to be.  He’s going to give his life that we might have life, and not so we can stay in sadness or fear or guilt forever, but so that we might have joy and celebration and hope.
Someone told me last week, “Sorry to tell you this, but we had a really great meeting without you.”  I was not sorry and you shouldn’t be either.  This is the work we’ve been doing together.  You are equipped.  If you’re not, you have what you need to get equipped.  You’re going to be fine.  Don’t think I need you to fail so that I know I am important.  When you soar, I soar.  When you have a great meeting or learn something new or connect with someone, that is the building up of the body of Christ.  God has done a good work in you.  I got to come over here and play for a while.  I brought everything I had and what I didn’t have you helped me bumble through.  But God did this, not me.  I accept your love and your thanks and I offer it right back to you, but don’t try to give me the credit.  We danced together with God as our leader and you will dance and drink wine again and so will I, maybe even soon.
I thank all of you and I thank God for giving you to me for a little while to teach me how to be a pastor. 

Monday, January 14, 2019

January 13, 2019

Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 
Isaiah 43:1-9 
Acts 8:14-17
      I don’t know about you, but I feel like the wheat and the chaff thrown up into the air by the winnowing fork, and I feel just about midair right now. I’m not feeling like I’m flying, I just feel tossed, and the uncertainty is, where will I land? Maybe you feel the same way—where will you land, as a congregation, as an individual with the things you’re always dealing with, health, parents, grandchildren, marriage, politics. We’re often in a state of being tossed by the forces of this world. Maybe we have the illusion that we’re more settled than we are. But sometimes it is just too obvious and we have to admit we’re tossed, rattled, in free-fall, living in the chaos.
As we fall, we feel we could go in a million different directions. That’s what happens when I drop my bowl of cereal or break a glass on the kitchen floor. It goes everywhere and no matter how well I sweep, I find more of it even a month or two later! Our scriptures today, understand that. The people in Isaiah have been in free fall. Israel is in decline and the Assyrian empire is expanding. They could go a lot of different directions. The apostles in Jerusalem could go a lot of directions after learning that the Samarians, of all people, had accepted the word of God—foreigners were getting it! It’s disorienting! It isn’t what anyone would have expected! What direction will the teachings of Jesus be taken? Where is this thing going to land?
      The two main directions are that they will be chaff and blow away to destruction, or they will find they are wheat and land where they are supposed to. What if we aren’t the good wheat we thought we were? I feel very disoriented in my midair chaos. Am I going to be able to convince someone to rent to me? We got that taken care of, now. Now will I be able to convince someone to hire me? Will I be found to be good wheat? Will I get to use my skills? Will someone want to rent my house? Will they see wheat or chaff when they consider living there? Will you get an interim who likes your quirks and scrappiness? Will you find fellow parishioners who stay despite some discomfort and uncertainty to see where this good wheat finally falls? Will the work go on and in what way?
In this uncertainty, there is a lot we can’t control. For what we can’t control or have a say about, we can only choose how we respond. We can respond with fear, or maybe that’s the default—more of a reaction. That’s an easy one to do, and we all go there. We fear the worst or even the second worst. We act out of our fears of people who are different from us. We panic. Our brain shuts down. We say things we don’t mean. We do things that aren’t us. We complain and drive people away from us. Sometimes in our fear we even hurt those around us. And sometimes we respond to our fear by clinging to easy answers and quick solutions. We build bigger barns. We try to take over. We strut around like we’re more important than other people. We buy a fancier car or house. We rush into a relationship. We take too much on because we want to be nice and say yes. There are lots of ways that we respond to fear that aren’t helpful.
The scriptures give us a lot of negative examples of people who react with fear. King Ahab in the Old Testament, Pharisees, Herod, Pontius Pilate, even Peter. Fear is one way to go and we will go there sometimes.
The scriptures remind us that fear isn’t the only possible response. The reading from Isaiah says, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you.” And it goes on to name all the things God is doing: God has called God’s people by name. God is with God’s people. God created us. God demands our return. God commands our oppressors to release us. When we feel fear, it can be helpful to remember God who is powerful and knows us, loves us, and sees the whole picture.
Far isn’t the only possible response. That’s part of what I think prayer is. Prayer is about sorting out what we can’t control and giving it to God, and prayer is about motivating us to act on what we can act on from a centered place of love and hope, and grounded in the scriptures, the stories of God’s people and their reactions to being tossed, over and over and over. That’s really what life is, a constant tossing from a winnowing fork!
The scriptures offer many examples of people who don’t respond with fear, or start out scared, but find their way to hope and faithfulness. So often it is someone that you wouldn’t expect—an outsider, a woman, a child, a leper, a foreigner, a Gentile.
The truth is, we can’t control where we’ll land, and we can’t control what parts of us are wheat and chaff. But God is faithful. God loves us. We can’t control that either, but that’s a good thing! No matter where we fall, we belong to God. No matter who the next pastor is, we belong to God. No matter what troubles come our way, we belong to God. No matter what joys come our way, we belong to God. No matter where my next job is, we belong to God. No matter who our president is, we belong to God. God is the one who sees the big picture. God cares about us and is working to save us. God is working through us to bring God’s saving power to all those who are struggling and in pain. No matter where we land, God is our creator, redeemer, and sustainer. God loves all of us and nothing will ever change that. Will we be the same as before we were thrown into the air? No! But God will be with us.
Do you know what else is up in the air this morning? The dove. The Holy Spirit descends on Jesus as he is praying after his baptism, in bodily form, like a dove. Every great leader had a bird that represented him. Caesar had an eagle. Herod had a hawk. Jesus has a dove. This is the dove that Noah sent out to see if the land was dried up enough to be habitable again after the flood. The dove is gentle and humble and peaceful. The dove is tender and innocent. This dove at Jesus’ baptism says what kind of leader Jesus will be. But that it is in the air shows how he will handle gusts of winds and chaotic times. He will not respond with attacks, but with humility and tenderness. He will not seek to destroy, but to build up.
Sometimes when we are in chaos, all we want to do is get to the part where we land. We want to rush through or deny the time when we are up in the air. However, it is in the air where we learn to have faith that wherever we fall, God is with us, and even when we are up in the air we find God with us. In times of chaos and uncertainty, which is always really, we can stop panicking, look around us at others who have been there far more often and make connections, we can look to God instead of our own power and remember who is really in charge, and we are more open to becoming the beloved children of God that we are. Times when we are in the air, we practice trust in God. We exercise our trust muscle.
The process is a pain in the neck: Whether you’re standing in line at the DMV or waiting to hear back from a job or a possible pastor, or whether you’re taking another survey or having another congregational meeting. It’s irritating, but that chaos is a beautiful in-between place of becoming, where you don’t know the answers and you can ask the questions and be creative. This in-between place is a place where God can transform you and transform the church more into God’s image, when you stay calm and centered and prayerful.
Don’t rush through. Don’t miss God with you while you’re up in the air. Don’t neglect the learning and growing that takes place there. Those are holy moments, up in the air with the Holy Spirit, with everyone who’s ever walked in chaos and found God by their side. And when it comes time to land, do it. Don’t fight it.
Today we remember our baptism, whether we can remember it or not. We went through the waters of chaos and admitted we couldn’t do it by ourselves, that we had no control, that we belong to God and the community of believers. It happened once, to most of us. But everyday we renew that promise, when we wash our face or hands, when we pray, when we breathe. We admit our sins, our shortcomings, our brokenness, our chaos, our lack of power, and we place ourselves in God’s hands for healing, hope, grace, and love, not only that we would receive it, but that we would give it away in this chaotic toss-up we call life.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

December 24, 2018

Luke 2:1-20         
Isaiah 9:2-7         
Titus 2:11-14
                In those days a decree went out that there was room in royal coffers for more coins, that there was room in the Empire for more roads, that there was room in the closets of the Generals for more fancy clothes, and room in the stables for more horses and chariots, so the people were expected to make room for a census.  They were to make room, put aside their work and travel to their ancestral lands to be counted.  They were being counted so they could make room in their own purses and pocket books by paying taxes to Caesar to fund his war machine and their own oppression.
                Joseph had made room for an inconvenient occurrence, a fiancĂ© unexpectedly pregnant, and he wasn’t the father.  Joseph was making room for a strange explanation of where this child came from.  Now that he had accepted Mary as his betrothed, he made room for her to travel with him to Bethlehem, even though she slowed him down a great deal.  He made room because he needed to be present when the child was born to claim him as his own and to name him.  He needed to make it clear to all those who mocked him and might hurt Mary and the child or throw them out of town, that he took responsibility for them. 
                The time came, that there was no more room within Mary for the growing baby, so her body prepared itself for the birth.  She had brought along strips of cloth to wrap him in.  The strips of cloth had room for the baby or whatever body needed to be wrapped. 
But the inn didn’t have room.  The homes didn’t have room.  They might have found room if Joseph had some gold coins, or nice clothes, or an important position, but he didn’t.  The animals did have room.  There was room in the hay, in the manger, in the barn, so that’s where the little guy lay for his first night on earth, a fitting place for the one that would have nowhere to lay his head as he crisscrossed the countryside as an adult, in the lowliest of places among the lowliest of people, sharing the good news of who and what matters in the Kingdom of God and who and what the Kingdom has room for.
                The fields had room for shepherds and sheep.  The sheep could eat healthy grass and drink clean water.  The shepherds would move them from place to place so that the fields could recover—that’s how much room they had.  The shepherds had room for the songs.  All was quiet on that night.  They would have heard the faintest cry, it was so quiet.  How overwhelming those angel songs must have been!  The sky had room for an angel and it’s glory shining in the sky.  There was nothing else to look at but a few twinkling stars that night, no distractions there in the fields.  And not only one angel, but there was room for a whole multitude of heavenly hosts, breaking through the night sky to sing their praises at the birth of the Messiah. 
                The hearts of the shepherds had plenty of room for fear.  They were ready for wolves.  They were ready for bad weather.  They were ready for anything out there that might threaten their flocks, but they were not ready for a full-on angel choir but they made room anyway.  They had room in their ears for a song, praising God and declaring peace and favor on earth.
                It turns out, the shepherds had room in their sleep schedule, in their sheep-watching schedule for some good news, for a baby shower, a very strange miracle—a baby sleeping in an animal trough.  They had room for haste!  They did not have room for dilly-dallying.  They hurried to his side to witness this miracle taking place, the first visitors of the in
                They made room in their limited view, from their lowly position to see something wondrous taking place.  They had room to see the Messiah come to earth for them—not in a palace, not in a maternity ward, not among luxuries, not among the high-society types.  Here he lay among the animals, asleep on the hay, wrapped in rags, coming into the world whether there was room for him or not.
                Our hearts are full of songs.  Our bellies are full of cookies and coffee.  Our minds are full of Christmas plans.  We have room for presents and trees and lights and food and lots and lots of sugar.  But do we have room for the lowliest infant child, the pregnant teenager, the out-of-towners out of gas by the side of the road, injured animal, loneliest person, hungry neighbor?  Do we have room for Jesus?  Do we have room to truly see the humanity in other people?   Do we have room to allow ourselves to be moved by the song?  Do we have room to hear the song, not just a song of comfort, but a song of challenge about who is powerful and who matters to God?  It’s the nobodies that God made a place with, a home with, because they had room for him.  Will we place ourselves among them?  Do we find ourselves in their midst?
                The shepherds had room for one more thing—that was a story.  They talked of nothing else for ages after that.  They had been so astounded, so honored, so amazed by this gift.  Now, everywhere they went, herding sheep, the told the story of the newborn in Bethlehem, to every new person they came across, how they found him among the animals, the Messiah, a helpless, tiny babe, come to the likes of them, to the likes of us, poor sinners, nobodies, and yet he is born in our midst, right in front of our noses if we have room for him.
                The powers of this world did not have room for Jesus, born that night.  No sooner was he born than Herod was trying to get rid of him.  His family fled to Egypt because there was no room for him in his own country.  When he came in his ministry, he found room among the ill, the imprisoned, the blind, the hungry, the women and children, the discounted.  But he didn’t find room among the priests, the important, the kings, the elite, the landowners, the comfortable.  He so offended those who were full of themselves, that they turned him over to be tortured and killed. 
                But death had no room for him who is the living one, and after three days in the belly of that whale, it spat him upon the shore and he went walking again among those who had room for him and were prepared to tell his story as the shepherds once had along their hills and paths.  The disciples told the story until it was passed on to us this night, all of us who made room in our celebrations to come and hear again the story of God’s love.  But being here doesn’t tell us if we have truly made room for Jesus.  Our actions reveal what we make room for and what we don’t.
                On the longest night about 80 people gathered in a cold church parking lot for a vigil for those who lost their lives on the streets of Portland this year, the houseless, the forgotten.  We were blessed by Pastor Elizabeth before we walked to the site a shelter that is under construction.  She told us that a vigil is when people keep awake when they usually would be sleeping, and that now was the time to wake up to the suffering of God’s children.  As we walked we were invited to keep silence and reflect on the holy that we encountered.  I looked as I walked for where I would try to find shelter if I was out in this cold.  Where would Joseph and Mary stop to deliver her baby?  There was room for a taxidermy shop, a beauty parlour, a brew pub, but there was no room for the Son of God.  But God’s son was born that night and every night since then into this cold world.  God’s son is being born tonight out in the cold.
                We get to decide everyday what to make room for.  Do we only make room for those who are just like us or who have something to offer us, to make us feel important?  Do we only make room for work and making money and being entertained?  Or do we look within ourselves and clear out the things that aren’t serving us or anyone else to make room for the prince of peace that is coming into the world?  Do we make room for nobodies and prisoners and aliens?  Do we make room for the sick and suffering and the poor? 
                Jesus came to show us that the Kingdom of God has room for us, even us lowly sinners.  Jesus came to be born among us.  We are being called this night to hear the angels praise him and join our own praises with theirs.  We are invited to run to his barn and welcome him.  We are invited to tell the story of how he gave us new life.  Open yourselves to God’s love.  Let our hearts and our lives prepare him room.  Open your eyes.  Open your ears.  Open your life.  Our Savior is among us now.  Go out and see him, receive him, love him, serve him. 

December 23, 2018

Luke 1:39-55                       
Micah 5:2-5a                      
Hebrews 10:5-10
                It was a song that has been sung through the generations, a song of hope in the midst of suffering, a song of God’s victory when it seemed all was lost, “God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.”
                This song filled the air when the people crossed through the Red Sea and the Egyptians were prevented from following them, when they looked out into the wide desert and wondered what was next for them.  They stood on dry land and a cheer went up and Miriam began to sing, “Horse and rider are thrown into the sea, The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil, I will draw my sword, my hand shall destroy them.’ You blew with your wind the sea covered them; they sank like lead in the mighty waters.”  It looked so bleak.  They thought they would always live under oppression.  Yet, in this moment, they let go of what they had been and began to hope in new life and they raised their voices in song about how God works in seemingly hopeless situations to turn things around and bring hope to people who are hurting.
                The song was raised by Hannah who had been barren.  But she went to pray to God.  She vowed that if she bore a son, she would bring him to serve God as a little boy.  In time she did bear a son and when he was weaned, she brought him to serve God.  Her voice lifted in song to God in praise, out of the heartache of being barren, to leaving her little child in God’s service, she sang the song of hope of her people, the song of the great reversal, the song of God’s faithfulness.  She sang, “My heart exults in the LORD; my strength is exalted in my God.  My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in my victory.  The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength.  Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry are fat with spoil.”  She found a song of hope through her faith that sustained her through her darkest hour.
                The song was raised by King David, in the Psalms.  He walked those dark nights when he was faced with his own sin and greed, when he held his stillborn son in his arms, when he was confronted by a member of his own royal court about how he had sent the husband of Bathsheba to the front lines to be killed so that he could take his wife.  He wandered far from God at times, knew terrible losses and pain.  And in those dark hours, he composed Psalms, some of which drew on this song of the ages, of hope in the darkness.  “The LORD raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap. He makes them sit with princes. He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children.” And “You deliver a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down.”  In his suffering and pain, he still looked to God with hope and lifted his voice in the ancient song of his people.
                Elizabeth and Mary found themselves in the midst of darkness and pain.  Elizabeth had been barren.  Now she was an old woman.  She had longed for new life to grow within her.  She had longed for justice and peace.  She had longed for the Messiah to come and save.  She had been mocked by other women and looked down upon.  She had been blamed for what her body would not or could not do.  And now in her old age, she finds herself in the company of Sarah and Hannah, old women who find new life within, growing little ones that will grow into big ones who will make their mark, and give hope to the people.
                Mary knew the pain of Roman occupation and oppression.  She knew a woman’s place.  She was just finding her voice.  But someone had passed down the stories, someone has passed down the song of her people.  She was sent away by her parents to the home of her older cousin Elizabeth, uncertain of Joseph’s next move, alone in the world, stared at, whispered about.  I can hear her humming this song to herself on the journey.  And when she bursts in, she is truly seen by her cousin, who shares the hope that is in her heart, her song.  The two rejoice.  The two understand each other.  The two bless each other.  Mary bursts into song.  She sings the song her of her people, the song of faith and hope.  It is a song of strength and power, a song of the proper place of all things in the Kingdom of God, an in-your-face, big middle finger to powers that defy God.  This is a song of resistance, of protest.
                She sings of what her soul magnifies, focuses on, makes larger—what is on her heart—The Lord.  God has seen her and honored her, and God will put all things right, that we have all these divisions between us, that we hoard our food and our power and think we deserve to be in charge.  But Mary’s song points out that God is in charge and God is good and God is faithful and God will make all things right. 
                Through Mary’s son we are adopted into God’s family.  So the song of Mary’s people, Hannah’s people, David’s people is our song, too.  Our sign today is, “Objects in this mirror are closer than they appear.”  Music has a way of closing the gaps between us.  Music has a way of connecting us with the past and the future.  We look into the mirror—what do we see?  Do we see ourselves far away, strong and independent and alone or do we see how close we are to all those waiting expectantly for God’s justice.
 Mary’s song points out the pregnant-waiting that we all do.  There is darkness everywhere we look.  Our world is a mess.  Our country is a mess.  Our schools are a mess.  Even religion is a mess.  There is a lot that is out of our hands, that we have no say over, that we can’t control.  In Mary’s song, she places all those things in God’s hands.  She lets them go, knowing, trusting that God will fulfill God’s promises.  Instead, she raises her voice in hope, recalling the history of her people, of her faithful God, knowing that her hopes, in line with God’s hopes, will ultimately be fulfilled.  She has reason to hope.  Her song connects her to those who have gone before and to that promise which is ahead.  The one to be born is the one of peace.  It’s not just about barren women being pregnant, but what God has already started to gestate who will fulfill the promise of peace.
                How many times did Mary sing that song to Jesus?  Certainly, as she carried him within herself, he began to hear the song of God’s people, of liberation, of hope.  How long until Jesus would begin singing this song himself, and it become his theme song, the Mission statement of his life?  He was focused on God, magnifying God with every action.  He saw people no one else saw, people who were sick, who were suffering, who were blind, who were blamed, who were foreigners and aliens, who were hungry, who were small, who were divorced, who were hopeless.  He taught them a song about God’s Kingdom, God’s priorities.  And as they raised their voices, they didn’t feel so small and helpless anymore, they felt powerful and hopeful.
                Can we sing this song, too, we who are rich and full and proud?  I believe we can.  This is liberation for us, too.  Do we trust in that strength of wealth, or do we allow ourselves to give thanks to the one who gives us all good things?  Do we take the credit and live lives of wasteful excess to hurt people around us?  Or do we remember our humble beginnings, the way we once went hungry, the way we squirrelled away coins to save for something special?  Do we keep everything for ourselves, or do we give it away?  Sometimes our wealth can be our God, and so this song is for us, because that wealth can’t help us at our last hour or be a friend to us when we are hurting.  Only God will be there, faithful in new life.  So we sing, show us hunger, if that will bring peace.  Take away any pride we have and put our trust in you.  Take away our power, we never really had any in the first place.  Let this song be a song of hope for us who have too much that we would take our part in the Kingdom, that we would truly follow Jesus and find new life.
                Did Mary sing that song at the foot of the cross?  Did Jesus sing it with her?  Did they find strength and hope, even up to his last breath that God would fulfill the promises to bring new life to the people?
                We walk in deep darkness, but still our song of hope goes up.  Our voices join with those of the angels, those of the people, those of our God.  It is a song of hope, of our world overturned, of justice and peace.
                Our sign today is, “Objects in this mirror are closer than they appear.”  Music has a way of melting away our distance and division.  Music is the language of the soul, of our deepest longings, of our faith.  It is a source of strength and a power to be reckoned with, a communication of our values, connections, and hopes.  Let us join the song of Hannah, David, Miriam, Mary, and Jesus, and let the song transform us and liberate us all to be God’s people of love and peace.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

December 16, 2018

Luke 3:7-18         
Zephaniah 3:14-20           
Philippians 4:4-7
Rejoice!  Celebrate!  Dance around!  Smile!  Hoot and holler!  God’s Kingdom is right here!  Rejoice in the face of fear!  Fear comes from Empire trying to control you.  Fear comes when the powerful are keeping more for themselves and trampling over everyone else.  Fear comes when people are living under oppression, when they have so many rules they are crushed by them, when people are disconnected from each other, divided.  Fear comes when corrupt leaders make their agenda, the agenda, when they only follow their own interests, when the poor are silenced.  Defy the fear and empire which causes it, the systems that perpetuate it.  Instead, rejoice!
Rejoice that you are no longer in danger from your enemies that were pursuing you.  Were you pursued by hunger or insecurity, were you pursued by robbers or by debts, were you pursued by illnesses, were there people out to get you?  Rejoice, you have nothing to fear.
Rejoice O God!  Rejoice that the people are not acting as your enemies anymore, but that we are one family, reunited. 
Rejoice O church of Philippi!  Their teacher, Paul, was far away.  He was imprisoned.  But God is actually near.  That is a reason to celebrate!  Paul gave thanks for the church in Philippi.  They had sent a gift to Paul, and he sent this letter back, rejoicing over them.  He gave thanks to God for them and he warned them not to participate in the fear-causing empire.  Instead, rejoice!
Rejoice, John, that the crowds have come to be baptized.  This is new life!  This is a new start.  People have left the cities, departed Jerusalem and the seats of power and wandered out to the desert.  They are looking for power in new places.  They are opening themselves to new experiences.  They are open to new teaching.  They are asking questions and they are interested in the answers.  They are not afraid of being called snakes.  Here they come, to the river, to humble themselves, to join in a community, to be washed clean, to show they are vulnerable and searching because their empire lives have not been giving them the answers they were looking for.
Rejoice in the desert, a place so ancient and expansive and powerful that even empire can’t crush it.  Come out to the wilderness, the place of unexpected silence and unexpected new life. 
Rejoice you brood of vipers, you baby snakes!  Rejoice, all sinners, fleeing from the cities and the halls of power to experience something new, to listen to God’s voice, to open yourselves to a new life.  Rejoice that your reptile brain doesn’t have to rule your life, that you can make room for deeper thought and for one another.
Rejoice, crowds, that even when it seems all is lost, that new life emerges.  Rejoice that even when trees are cut down, still a righteous branch can spring up, the branch of Jesse’s family line.  Even when the tree doesn’t bear fruit and it is pruned or chopped down, even when it seems it is too late, even when the branches have burned, there may be just below the surface, a glimmer of life.  God is able out of dead trees, to bring life.  God is able, out of stones, to raise up children.  God is able to take dry bones and breathe new life into them.  Even when our empire life, our crushing, slaving life, our earth-killing life destroys all that we have known, even when we die, still it is not too late for God to do a new thing.  That is worth rejoicing over.
Rejoice!  Rejoice that we have enough to share.  I have two coats, there is even something I can do.  Rejoice that we have clothing.  Rejoice that we have an income.  Rejoice that we have food.  Rejoice that we have power.  And how can we express this rejoicing and thanksgiving?  Give it away.  Our food is not for storing, but for eating.  Our coats are taking up too much space, anyway—give them away.  Our power is not for hoarding or using just for us—share it.  Anything we have is a burden to carry, but rejoice!  There is a solution—share!
Those who have nothing, rejoice, and be filled with expectation, because soon those coats and that food that were languishing in closets and cupboards, will be flowing to all those in need, to you!  Rejoice, soon everyone will have something to eat and will experience the goodness of God.
Rejoice, because when God washes away our sin and sends us forward in a Kingdom life, there will be no more bullying or extortion or high interest rates.  No one will discriminate against anyone else based on religion or gender or race or class.  Rejoice because we are truly one and when we walk in the Kingdom way, we will act like it!
Rejoice, because the Powerful One is coming!  This one is more poweful than all the powers of this world, the crushing powers, the greedy powers, the enslaving, dividing powers.  The all-powerful one is coming, the one who uses power for  the good of all, the one who shares power, the one who lets go of power to die and empower everyone.  The all-powerful one is coming and we have been adopted into his family.  We are good creation, the beloved children, inheritors of eternal life.  Rejoice!
Rejoice, because God is coming in judgment!  We usually shrink from judgment, but judgment just means that we will be seen as we are.  God already knows what is in our hearts.  God already knows where we fall short.  God already knows our selfish, fearful thoughts.  But God also knows when we are generous, and that we long to do better.  God knows our longing to be near to God.  God knows when we take the time with someone who doesn’t have anyone else.  God knows that we’ve shared our food and our coats.  God knows when we’ve sat by the bed of someone who is sick, or visited someone who is lonely, or sent a care package to someone deployed overseas, or taken in an orphan or a foster child or an exchange student, or a stray cat or dog.  God sees when we reuse what we have or use our gifts to create something.  God sees when we look someone in the eye and tell them a difficult truth.  God sees when we make use of what we have.  God knows when we humble ourselves and ask forgiveness.  God hears our prayers.  God knows us.  We don’t have to be afraid of God’s judgment, because we know God already loves us, and that God is merciful.  Rejoice in the judgment, because then we can put aside our act, our pretense, and just rest in the arms of the one who loves us unconditionally, and has come to set things right. 
Rejoice in the runaway truck ramp.  This broken world sometimes seems like a truck careening down the hill without breaks, out of control, powerful and dangerous, on a path of destruction.  It seems unstoppable.  However, God has put safeguards in place.  See this runaway truck ramp sign.  We need not fear the out of control powers of this world.  They will not go on indefinitely.  They will not take out everything in their path.  There are ways to slow everything down, and get it reversed in another direction, a way to stop and make repairs and start over.  Advent is a good time to bring to a halt the powers that seek to destroy.  Advent is a good time for self-reflection, “Is this what life is all about, or am I on a careening path about to crash?”  “What powers of this world are out of control and who is in the way that needs protection?”  John says, “Repent.”  There is a way to put a stop to this dangerous path: Reflection, baptism, repentance, sharing, being content with what you have, standing up against injustice and greed.
Rejoice in the removal of the chaff.  The chaff is the protective outer layer of the seed.  It is good for protecting seeds, keeping them dry, keeping out mold and rot.  However, the chaff is temporary.  It is meant to break off and let the seed grow or provide nutrients.  The chaff may be burned or crushed off, but it eventually separates from the seed.  We all have a protective layer—sometimes it is two coats or even 5 or 6 coats, to make sure we don’t go without.  Sometimes it is extra food to keep us safe from hunger.  Sometimes it is a savings account.  Sometimes it is our favorite pew.  Sometimes it is doing things the way we always have.  Sometimes it is our pretenses.  But today, the chaff, the protective layer is being thrown into the fire, and we are left here vulnerable, in need of God’s protection, exposed.  And we find that fear isn’t going to help us.  Instead, we find ourselves rejoicing, because we are seen and known, because that protective layer wasn’t serving us anymore, because now we can spread out and grow with the new life that God is giving us. 
Rejoice O little congregation, that God is working through you, that you are connected to neighbors and other churches that will help you and that you can lend a hand to.  Rejoice that you have God’s abundance, over 50 years of history of God’s faithfulness here, bringing you through difficult times and never abandoning you.  Rejoice that you have the strength of leaders, that everyone shares their gifts and talents.  Rejoice in the ministry that we have done together and that will still go on.  Rejoice in one another, your connections, your encouragement, your prayer for one another. 
And rejoice in the coming of Christ!  None of us are alone.  We belong to the one who made us and sustains us.  We belong to the one who saved us, our Good Shepherd, our King of Kings.  Rejoice in him at our center, and rejoice by serving him.  Thank God by continuing in faithfulness, volunteering, stepping up, sharing our food and clothing and money with all in need. 
Today I am rejoicing because of all of you and because of the faithfulness of our Savior Jesus.  May you find yourselves rejoicing, too, and the rejoicing will go on because God is near.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

December 9, 2018

Luke 3:1-6                            
Malachi 3:1-4                     
Philippians 1:3-11
                In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, the 20th month of the Presidency of Donald J. Trump, when Kate Brown was Governor of Oregon, Mark Gamba was the Mayor of Milwaukie, during the high priesthood of Franklin Graham we knew who had the power and who made the decisions.  We knew the game that had to be played.  We paid our taxes.  We bought bigger houses and more cars.  We watched TV.  We believed the news.  We voted for the richest candidates.  We voted for laws that benefitted those in power.  We never questioned that those with money and power deserved it.  And we thought life would always be that way.
                And then came a disruption.  It started out quiet.  It came from out of left field.  We thought we heard something, but we ignored it.  We drowned it out with other noises.  We went about our lives, business as usual.  Then it started to get louder.  We recognized it was a human voice.  It seemed to come from the margins, from far away.  Or did it come from within us?  Something, someone was crying out.  It was disruptive.  We tried to continue to focus on the usual.  But it kept pulling us, bothering us, until we paid more attention to it, until we had no choice but to turn and see what all the fuss was about.
                It was a messenger.  We were delighted at first.  An angel!  We expected to be comforted, to hear a beautiful song, or find ourselves filled with joy.  But we found ourselves confronted, shaken.  This messenger was bringing a word of judgment that all the sin, all the contradictions and untruths we live will be scrubbed off or burned away.  This was a messenger not just telling us to change, but changing us, turning us around from all our wandering, and getting us all cleaned up for new life, a just life, a Kingdom life.
                Our rulers seemed to be locked in place.  It seemed like things will never change.  We’re going through our Christmas preparation rituals, but we’re preparing ourselves for the same old thing.  We’re preparing for a newborn child, innocent and tender in the manger.  But that Christ child has already come.  The one who is coming again is all grown up.  What we are preparing for is the second coming of Christ.  I don’t know if I believe the trumpets will blast and the heavens part with all these angels in the sky, but I do believe that Christ comes to us again, daily.  And Christ doesn’t just come as a little baby that is so cute.  Christ comes as a disruptive challenge.  He’s not mean about it, but life as it is, isn’t working for very many people.  Even people who are gaining in wealth and power aren’t finding any more life satisfaction or fulfillment.  Jesus is coming to scrub us clean.  It is a process that is difficult.  We’ll be letting go of some things, maybe even a lot.  We will mourn.  It will not be easy.  But the end result can’t be denied: New life!
                God started something long ago, new life, salvation for all flesh.  It is a project that goes on, year-round, that opens our eyes, removes the barriers, heals the wounds, knits us together, gives us a sense of servanthood, humbles us, directs us, prunes us, refines us into righteous dudes, just creatures, compassionate people, the body of Christ.
                So we come to today’s signs.  These signs tell us how close God is and give us direction: 
                The first is “Road Work Ahead.”  That’s not one we look forward to seeing!  Maybe we’re groaning.  We’re going to be stuck in traffic.  Things are going to slow down.  They are going to be inconvenient.  We feel our blood pressure rising.  We clench our fists on the steering wheel, but then we remember we’ve been here before and it isn’t the end of the world.  First, this isn’t going to be forever.  The road construction goes on for a little while, so that things can be better in the future, especially for people who have been left out and ignored.  Second, this is God’s highway project.  The Bible says that every valley shall be filled and the crooked made straight.  It isn’t up to us to decide what highway to build or what road to smooth out.  The burden doesn’t fall on us.  It isn’t our project to start or finish, it is God’s.  However, while we are stuck in traffic, we might be invited to move some cones around, or jump in the cab of a backhoe and get digging.  Maybe we can be a flagger and promote safety.  It is God’s project, but we may find God inviting us into the project to play our part, to participate, to get a glimpse of what God is up to. 
                Here’s another sign.  This one has a bunch of arrows.  I love this, because there are so many ways to go!  The way John the Baptist and Malachi are advocating is a full u-turn.  We’re going completely the wrong direction, but here’s a sign to get us back on track.  We can make the full turn, or we can get distracted halfway through and just take a left or a right!  We are invited to fully turn around from running from God and come near.  We are invited to change our ways, not just a little bit.  A full u-turn seems pretty drastic, and when you have a car with a wide turn radius, it can be a real pain.  When you are used to going one direction and just head there automatically, it is hard to find your way on new roads.  We find ourselves lost.  We feel disoriented. 
This place of wandering and disorientation is our wilderness.  So  here is the sign here for John the Baptist Wilderness Area.  The wilderness was the place the Israelites went after they fled slavery in Egypt.  It was a barren desert.  It was completely different than the life they knew.  The wilderness was a place of stripping away most comforts, most possessions, all the ideas of who was powerful and important.  It was a place to learn trust.  It was a place of encounter with God.
We have many wildernesses.  When we face illness, we have to let go of what we knew before and it can be a kind of wilderness.  When we go through divorce, or any kind of grief, when the kids leave home, when we have to move, or change pastors, when we give up driving, even when we retire, we find ourselves in the wilderness.  This is another image for the fuller’s soap or the refiner’s fire. The landscape has changed.  We’re uncomfortable.  We’re disoriented.  We’re disrupted.  But we’re learning and growing.  We’re hearing God’s voice.  We’re challenged to see things we never saw before and try new things.  We’re encountering new life even when it doesn’t seem like it.  That’s the thing about the desert, when you first look you don’t see a lot of life, but if you look a little closer, there are birds of prey circling, there are snakes and insects and wildlife.  If you look closer, life is happening and when that desert rain comes, the plants bloom almost overnight.  The seeds were there, just waiting for that life-giving water, just waiting to grow and to bloom.
It seems drastic, for God to send us to the wilderness and require a u-turn, yet it is still us.  Signs and wonders is our theme.  This is the wonder.  God hasn’t given up on us.  God hasn’t traded us in for another.  God doesn’t give up on us.  God is bringing salvation, healing to us all.  God is still able to work through us as messed up as we are.
That’s the hope.  God has promised to bring to completion this plan for salvation.  No one will be left behind.  It is a project for all flesh.  We will find our offerings pleasing to God—offerings not of sacrificed animals or a few coins, but the offering of our full selves to be in relationship with each other and with God.  We have the hope and confidence that God fulfills God’s promises, that God has the picture in mind of the Kingdom and that God will bring it about, no matter how far we seem from that vision now.  We have hope in the overflowing love—something that can’t be controlled or monetized or reduced.  This love comes from God, to all flesh, and overflows our cup to others, until all know the blessing of God.  It is not a love that lets us stay the same.  It changes us and challenges us.  It tells us the truth about what matters and what is lasting.  It connects us no matter where we are, so that the body of Christ in all times and places is united in the roadwork of the Kingdom.  It is a love that upends the power structures in place and is revealed as the true power for new life.
This wilderness is devastating.  It is painful.  I don’t want to be here.  But I am here.  We are here.  We thought we knew what things would be like.  We were fine to be comfortable.  But now things have changed.  I’m going to moving away at the end of January.  I’ll miss you.  Things are changing.  Except the love of God has not changed.  We’re not alone.  We’re growing in faith and trust.  We’ll see things we never saw before.  We’ll be called to leadership we never thought we could handle.  We will stand.  We will fall.  We will live.  It’s going to be ok.  I don’t like it, but it is going to be ok.  I hold you in my heart and I know you do the same for me, so lets keep up this Gospel work so God’s love can grow and be known, so justice can take root, so valleys can be filled, so new life can flourish.

December 2, 2018

Luke 21:25-36                     
Jeremiah 33:14-16            
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
                Our theme for Advent is “Signs and Wonders.”  The scriptures over the next 4 weeks leading up to Christmas are full of communication from God about the thing that is about to take place, God is about to enter our world in human form and likeness, Jesus is about to be born.  This doesn’t just affect us humans, but is about God’s salvation for all Creation, God’s saving power for everything God has made.  So everything that God has made is reacting. 
In today’s Bible readings, the stars are lining up.  The trees are blooming.  The seas are crashing.  The moon is changing colors.  The sun is having an eclipse.  The earth is reacting to the coming of Christ and people are trying to interpret the reactions of the earth.  What are they communicating?  What can we learn from them?  The moon and stars, the heavens are acting differently, and the earth is acting differently.  What does this mean for us?
The first thing we can know is that something very powerful is happening.  If just the plants were reacting, people would know something smaller and more local was occurring.  If it was just the plants and the seas, then there might be a bit more concern because of the bigger scope, but we’d know it was localized on earth.  But this is affecting the stars, the sun, and the moon.  This is a cosmic event that his happening.  This is something really big.
So is this something bad or something good?  Is this a Tsunami warning?  Or is this a “Congratulations!” sign?  Should we be afraid or excited?
The Gospel says that many people will be afraid, and many of us are when we think of earthquakes or drought and even more so when we think of meteors and cosmic collisions.  However, since we know that God created the heavens and the earth, we know that God who is loving and merciful is in charge over the sun and planets, we know that these signs must be communicating something that is consistent with our loving God.  These signs are something to welcome rather than dread.
These are signs helping us to pay attention and stay on track.  Sometimes life can be distracting.  We get caught up in things that don’t matter.  We get lazy or we overwork ourselves.  We lose perspective.  However, these signs are communicating that it won’t be much longer until we find humanity united under God’s reign.  It won’t be long until the baby Jesus will be born in Bethlehem.  It won’t be long until the poor are fed and there is justice for the oppressed.  Even when it seems like God’s reign is far away, when the earth is shaking and the sky is dark, those are times to pay attention, to look up, to look around. 
This is what I saw last week when I came to church. It is dark and cold, but I saw children playing together, adults greeting each other.  I heard a flute practicing and a choir practicing.  I saw people sharing out of their abundance.  I saw people being generous.  I saw the Kingdom of God.  I saw it again yesterday, when the boyscouts brought in bag after bag after box of food for the pantry. And I will look for it again, on the freeway, in the grocery store, reading my to my child at bedtime, while I am sewing, cooking, cleaning.  Simply paying attention to the signs of the nearness of the Kingdom of God, causes us to look up and see it, and see it more often, and soon welcome it, participate in it.
These are signs of encouragement.  The road can be long.  The way can be difficult.  It may be hard to see where we’re going.  There is rough terrain.  The signs along the way give us the courage to keep going.  They let us know we’re on the right track.  The one we seek is powerful.  The one we seek is loving.  The one we seek wants to be found.  The one we seek is walking right here beside us.  The one we seek has been with us all along.
These are signs to stand up.  When we become aware of how near Christ is, our first reaction might be to slink back into the shadows.  But the scriptures say to stand up tall.  Stand up and take courage.  Stand up and be seen.  Stand up and speak up for all those who have been neglected and suffered injustice.  Stand up for the orphan, for the foster child.  Stand up for the wrongly-evicted.  Stand up for the one who lost a job because of illness or greed.  Stand up against the powers of this world, because the one who is all-powerful is coming to set the world right.  We’re asked to be like Zacchaeus, and not only stand up, but climb up the tree.  Salvation is coming!  I want to see what this is going to look like!
I mentioned that our theme is “Signs and wonders.”  Next, we come to the wonders.
I wonder what’s up ahead.  I like to know what’s going to happen.  I don’t like surprises.  But I have to let go of control and put my faith in God, trust the one who is all-powerful and all-loving.  When I wonder what’s up ahead, it can be easy to think of the inevitable difficulties.  I want to prepare myself for the worst.  But because of Jesus, I can have hope, too.  God’s promised reign gives me hope.  What I want to be careful about is false hopes.  I might hope for a new gadget to make my life easier, or that my family will all be healthy, or that everything will stay just like it is, but those are temporary wishes, not true hopes that last.  Hope is about love and relationship, it is about courage and vision, it is about being open to being surprised by God, and it can also be about sacrifice, when our branches get pruned that aren’t doing us any good or that could contribute to new growth if we lopped them off.
Another thing I wonder is about thankfulness.  How did Paul keep up his faith and gratefulness to God?  Paul or one of his disciples was thanking God, even while imprisoned, even while separated from the Thessalonians, even as the Christians were being persecuted.  He found a way to be grateful, even when it seemed the sky was falling.  Thankfulness is such a good habit to cultivate.  When we are joyful, give thanks!  When we are afraid, count our blessings!  Even when we are angry, find something to thank God for!  There is nothing like gratitude to transform us, and to open our eyes to see the reign of God right here, being born in our midst.  Some people have a thankfulness journal where they write down everything they are thankful for.  Some use prayer, like we started doing here in our prayers of the people.  Some pray in the morning or evening or another set time to focus themselves on what God has done.  How do you practice gratefulness?
Another wonder of mine is that God doesn’t wait until we’re ready.  We haven’t got ourselves together.  We push and pull and we can’t make Christ’s reign come.  We can’t focus.  We wander in circles.  We make the same mistakes again and again.  Yet Christ brings that reign to us.  You’d think he’d go running the other direction when he sees what a mess we’ve made of everything.  But here he is, born in our midst, bringing us through the waters, keeping is close in relationship, admonishing us, turning us around again and again to see the beauty and love that is all around us.  We are not ready, but he is coming, he is here, and he’s got this covered.
Another word for “signs” is miracles.  I guess it depends on your perspective whether you see the miracle or are fearful.  For those of us who have it easier, who have more privileges like money or light skin, it’s like there are ramps and elevators to get us over the rough terrain and take us places we want to be.  But a lot of people have been picking their way among the boulders, trying to get their footing, the hungry, the undocumented, the prisoner, so these signs that something is changing is good news for them.  The branch pulls them to safety.  The waves smooth out the road.  The earthquake topples the buildings where people experience injustice.  What has been going on until now is coming  to an end.  This is quite the shakeup.  But it is a shakeup that results in abundant life for all.  Stand tall, lift your heads, and receive your king.