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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Sermon for June 26

June 26, 2011 Gospel: Matthew 10:40-42 1st Reading: Jeremiah 28:5-9
Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18 2nd Reading: Romans 6:12-23

“Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me,” Jesus says. The good news for this morning is God’s welcome and our welcome. I was pondering this week so many times I have been welcomed throughout my life. And I was thinking about the kind of welcome I do and don’t extend, the kind of welcome I want to extend and how God wants that for me.

I have a confession to make, and that is that even though I have preached probably 40 welcome sermons, I have been challenged in my welcome this year. It wasn’t anyone who hurt me or my family. That would be more about forgiveness, one side of welcome. My grandma wrote me in December to tell me in advance of our Christmas celebration that two of my cousins were getting married to each other. Yes, I told you I am from a hick family. Yes they are first cousins. No that is not legal in Oregon, but California is one of two states where it is. The border is not too far from here and Oregon honors those marriages performed there. I confess that when I heard the news I immediately called each of my three siblings and snickered and cackled with them about how messed up our family is and had quite a good time gossiping. My sense of welcome was challenged.

Although I still struggle with it, I mostly got over it, so that when my brother called me a month later to tell me they were expecting a child, he was disappointed I didn’t get worked up into a tizzy again. Some in the family have shunned them—won’t come to family gatherings where they show up. It is sad to miss out on family time because of something like that. I guess I focused on the question—what does it hurt us? It is really none of our business.
What about their child, you ask? Doesn’t it hurt their child? They did their research. Children born to first cousins still have a really low birth defect rate. It is only when cousins marry cousins marry cousins that you start getting into trouble. They’ve had all kinds of genetic testing and so far so good. So as long as their child marries outside the family, which is the usual trend, everything should be fine.

So what does this have to do with the Gospel—it has to do with welcome. Christmas at grandma’s was quite sparse this year and I know it has something to do with those two cousins being there and others staying home because of them. I was shocked when grandma told me two days before the gathering, but I was planning to go to grandma’s anyway and see my mom and family. I wasn’t about to change my plans because my cousins are weird. And I even managed to croak out a “congratulations” to them. Yesterday my cousins had a baby shower and I went. You need family and friends around you, even when they do things you don’t understand, and my family falls into that category all the time. What does the shunning accomplish—nothing. It mainly hurts the one doing the cutting-off. Some of my other cousins missed seeing grandma—and who knows how many more Christmases we’ll have with her? They broke a family connection. I still hope they’ll eventually come around and get over it for their own good. I don’t advocate cousin marriage and I have to look inside myself for my more kind and welcoming side when it comes to this situation, but when I think of how I want my family and friends to treat me when they disagree with something I do, I have to treat my cousins like I’d want to be treated and let it go.

Welcome is one thing we can offer each other—no matter how poor we are, we can give a glass of cold water. We can share what little we have. We can open up our space to others, whether it is our home, our church, or a spot at out picnic table at the park. I have a stack of books in my office from one of my favorite homeless people, Michael. He shared with me even when he didn’t even have a pair of socks to wear or a place to lay his head. I have a devotional given to be by Lennie, another homeless man I met in this area and I use it often at meetings and when I need a word of encouragement—and it is by Eugene Peterson, one of my favorite authors, and Lennie knew what I would like and what to give me. Others have shared a song or a prayer or a story. In all these ways I have been welcomed by people who had seemingly nothing to give. Yet they had a welcome to give. And I think many of them knew the meaning of hospitality because they had experiences of receiving it and knowing how much it meant, and of not receiving it and knowing how much that hurt.

Most of us are not living hand to mouth. We live in relative comfort. Maybe the question of whether we will be welcomed or not is not foremost on our minds. We may take it a little bit for granted. We don’t expect to be thrown out of a store for our appearance or scent. We expect our pew in church. We expect people to talk to us instead of standing apart and staring. Yet, when we think about it, we know about welcome and we have experienced its opposite both for ourselves or for a loved one. Some of us have struggled with depression, anxiety, and mental illness and probably all of us know someone who has. How can we be more welcoming to people going through that kind of hell? Some of us are divorced, have tattoos, are bald, are getting older, have been considered too short, struggle with hearing or vision loss, have struggled with drug and alcohol abuse, have been put in categories because of our gender or appearance. Many of your children and grandchildren are estranged from church, they just don’t see the relevance. They don’t see the welcome, only the judgment they’ve experienced. It is too bad because it only takes one bad experience to ruin all the good ones. Some of us here may be gay or lesbian and have family members and friends who have known the pain of rejection because of their sexual orientation. How can we be more welcoming to all people who have known the pain of being left out or shunned?

God says to welcome. Jesus showed us that he really means everybody. The good news is about welcome. I think it is partly because we know the pain of being left out and we have felt it for our friends and family, that we want to be sure that everyone knows they are welcome here. And many of us know what a comfort a congregation can be, how much it has mean to each person here, to be able to grow and learn and share and know God’s love and generosity. We want other people to have that experience. That’s why we became a Reconciling in Christ congregation, a welcoming congregation who puts it out there that this is a welcoming place.

Now when I first read the second lesson for today, I found it a little discouraging. I even joked with Gordon about putting “The Wages of Sin is Death” on the sign board outside! “Sin” is mentioned 10 times in that reading, as well as wickedness, shame, slavery, death, iniquity, and all those downers. I’m not opposed to downers. I can be a pessimist with the best/worst of them. But I am opposed to discouragement. I think when Paul wrote this, he was trying to show them the reality of where they were and what the consequences would be if they kept up the same old ways. And he was trying to show them their freedom now that they had Christ and his free gift of eternal life.

So I was pondering all the meanings of sin: our actions, motivations, thoughts, selfishness, brokenness, limitations, attempts to prove that we are good enough, etc. But I think for today, a good definition for sin is a lack of welcome. It is denying a relationship. It is pushing people away. It is pushing God away who is coming to us in that other person. It not only hurts them, but it hurts us because we lose out on that interaction in which we might have learned something or been able to share what we have with them. And the wages of that lack of welcome is death. It is a loss of hope for growth. It is the death of a relationship. A little of us dies when we don’t have those interactions that God is trying to give us by throwing people on our path, in our faces.

But the good news is still the welcome. My cousins took the risk to invite me to their party this weekend. Certainly people refused their invitation, but I know I need my cousins and family. I may need their help someday. And I can learn how to be a more welcoming person by being with them and welcoming them. Jesus took the risk of welcoming us by coming among us and spending time with those we normally wouldn’t welcome. His welcome was offensive so we gave him the boot. We crucified him on the cross, hoping we could shun and ignore him and get back to business as usual—welcoming only those who could so something for us. But Jesus came back from the grave to say that even killing him couldn’t kill his welcome. God is love. God is welcome. We are God’s children, and it is up to us to spread that welcome for our own good and the good of a hurting world.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Sermon for Graycie's baptism and Trinity Sunday

June 19, 2011 Gospel: Matthew 28:16-20 1st Reading: Genesis 1:1-2:4
Psalm 8 2nd Reading: 2 Corinthians 13:11-13

Dear Graycie Angel, today is your baptism day. Today we’re doing what the Gospel tells us to do without delay, baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. I hope you are reminded every Trinity Sunday of your baptism and the way your parents and grandparents wanted you to know you were a child of God and how special you are, that they gave you back to God and to the community of Christ on this day. And I hope you remember it every day—how big God’s love is for you and for all God’s people and the whole Creation.

At this age you probably understand the Holy Trinity as well as any of us. It isn’t always something we can understand. One God, Three persons or functions. I guess it is just our way of saying that God does so much for us. How could we ever put it into words or images? It says that although God lives inside you and each of us, that God is also big and everywhere. When we start church we say what it says in 2 Corinthians today, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the Communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” It is a way of reminding ourselves that God is present with us. We are at church and God is here with us, like a mini roll call, naming the one we can’t see, but certainly experience. Really we could say this kind of thing anywhere, just reminding ourselves that God is with us and calling on all three of God’s names.

How grand is that to know that the grace of Jesus Christ is with us! That’s a lot of grace. No wonder Lutherans are so attached to grace! Grace is in your name, isn’t it—a good reminder of God’s love for you. It is a good reminder of your parents’ love for you. It is a good reminder of the community’s love for you. Grace means loved no matter what. It means forgiven when you make mistakes. It means that you are a gift of grace to us, a reminder of what is good. There may be times when you feel sad or angry, not graceful at all. But your name always stays the same to remind you of how God graces us with love and gifts and talents and hope—how everything is a gift from God. Even when you aren’t feeling particularly graceful, remember who you are, and know that you aren’t alone.

Secondly, we are offered the love of God. How big a love is that? God, in love, created all things, as we hear in the reading from Genesis. God was lonely. God wanted to relate to others. God had a lot of love to give—so God created everything, including you, Graycie. And God continues to create the world and each of us. That is obvious by the way you’re growing and learning. Just like God does, we too, get to love each other. If God created us good and loved us, we shouldn’t disrespect what God made, but instead love each other and treat each other like we’d like to be treated. And that includes this planet that God made. We are to love the animals and the plants, the seas, and the sky and all creation. God is love. We are God’s children, so love is what we’re all about, too.

And finally we’re offered the communion of the Holy Spirit. God didn’t want us to feel alone. God sent us Jesus to go through what we go through and see what it is like to be a toddler in a new situation or a teenager experiencing hormones, or a young man trying to find meaning in life, or an innocent person accused of crimes and sentenced to death, or a misunderstood teacher, or a guy who just wanted a moment’s peace, or a person who loved people so much that he gave of himself without holding back. Whatever you’re experiencing in life, Graycie, God knows what you’re going through and is going through it with you. You aren’t alone. God understands.

And when it was time for Jesus to ascend, he wanted to make sure we knew that we’d still know that God is right here with us. So we get the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we think of the Holy Spirit as God living in our heart. That works to a certain extent. But it is also important to remember that it is when we are together in community that we really experience the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is between people, or between people and nature. It is when we come together that we are strengthened in our faith. We can remind each other of the stories either from the Bible, or that our parents shared with us about their faith, or stories about how our family came through a crisis or worked together to solve a problem, or faced grief and found hope. The Holy Spirit is with us when we gather to worship and try to puzzle out our faith or work through our doubts. It helps us ask questions of ourselves and God. On our own, we might figure some of it out, but isn’t it so much better in community when you know you aren’t the only one asking that question and others with more experience have gone before and can shed some light on the situation—give it some perspective.

The Holy Spirit connects us with God. She connects us with our family. She connects us with our church community. And she connects us with all of Christianity in all times in all places, those who have gone before and those who will come after us. The Holy Spirit is about communion and community.

So now that I’ve explained it all, you are all set for a life of faith, aren’t you? We’ll, I tell you, Graycie, I wish we could give you all the answers. I wish we could hand you a lifetime of faith and that you’d breeze right through. But we all have to admit that most of the time we don’t get it, either. Like the disciples in Matthew, we also doubt. We lose our way. We screw up royally. We’re all just bumbling along together, trusting God to lead our little flock of sheep, feed us, and care for us, etc. There is no one right way to be loving. There is such a thing as cheap grace and people take advantage of one another’s forgiveness. And people in community are not always pleasant to be around. Being a Christian is messy. Being a person is messy. You might like that idea now, but there will be a time when you’d like it to all come together and it won’t. But that isn’t the end of the world. God doesn’t need us to be perfect or to have all the answers, not even the pastor has to! Instead God asks us to trust and to seek and to love and God will make something beautiful of all our messes.

Father’s day is a wonderful day for celebrating the Trinity and having a baptism. Fathers know what it is like to live in the tension, for there not to be any right answers. From what I understand fatherhood and parenthood is partly about taking it as it comes, responding to each situation individually. It seems to be kind of a guess and check system, learning as you go. Knowing yourselves I think helps with parenthood and sometimes make it harder. The deep bond your parents have with each other is helpful—they’ve been through difficult things before and made it through and can bumble their way through the next one, too, and the next and the next. Watch your father, Graycie, and you will learn what it means to have faith and to try and sometimes fail and sometimes succeed, but also to know grace and have the freedom to try again.

In the same way, we can look to God the Father to try to figure out how to respond to our world. We can look to the love, grace, and communion all wrapped up in what God has in that great big diaper bag to lavish on us. Whether it is fatherhood, grandfatherhood, health issues, addiction, employment or lackthereof, family, church, or anything, we are not alone, we are accepted and loved, we are a part of something bigger, and ultimately we can find peace and hope even in the messy, confusing ambiguity that is life.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Sermon for June 12, 2011

June 12, 2011 Aimee Bruno Gospel: John 20:19-23
1st Reading: Acts 2:1-21 Psalm 104:24-34, 35b 2nd Reading: 1 Cor. 12:3b-13

While the other Gospels wait 50 days before Jesus leaves us with the Holy Spirit, (get it—Pente-cost?) the Gospel of John has Jesus give us the Holy Spirit right away. In the Gospel of John, the coming of the Holy Spirit is all wrapped up in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, not separate at all like in the other Gospels.

Let’s put ourselves in the Pentecost story.

Jesus has just died on the cross. Our beloved friend has suffered tremendously. This wasn’t how it was supposed to end. We had been elated all week, as he came into Jerusalem and finally got his due. We were celebrating the Passover with our friends and remembering all the ways that God had saved the people generation after generation. This looked like another way God was going to save the people. Jesus would be crowned and made king. He would make all things right, the hungry would be fed, and God would be worshipped. Everyone would be happy.

But that isn’t what happened at all. Instead he was arrested. Those who had supported him and cheered his entrance abandoned him. He was tortured, hung on a cross, and died.

We, too, had abandoned him. We had denied him when people asked us about him. We were afraid we’d be next to be executed. So we got the heck out of there. We went to a town that was a day’s walk away.

On the way, we didn’t talk much. We felt sad. We felt horrified. We felt guilty. We couldn’t get the images out of our minds—the last time we saw him, the look of the soldiers who arrested him, his resigned look, his chastising us for falling asleep in the garden while he prayed. If we had really believed that he would be taken from us, surely we would have spent that last week and that last night differently. We would have listened more closely. We would have taken notes. We would have forced ourselves to stay awake. We would have been more prepared to stand up to those who questioned us. But we didn’t really listen to what he was telling us, and we had let him down.

So we fled and when we got to our safe house, we locked the doors and just collapsed. What now? Where would we go? When would it be safe to go out again? When would people forget about Jesus and let us live our lives again?

But we could never forget about him. We could never forget his invitation to follow. We could never forget the different people he talked to and healed and fed and taught. We could never forget the love he showed to everyone. We could never forget the life he invited us to lead, without prejudice or putting ourselves above others, without judging, without borders. Jesus had shown us what freedom really is, when you don’t abide by societies rules, but by God’s rules of love for everyone. We’d never forget that.

And yet we were afraid. Living that way is so risky. Look where Jesus ended up. His love was so offensive to people they put him to death. Is that what we could expect? Could we take the heartache of working with the blind and neglected all the time? Could we give up our families and our possessions and comforts in order to be with the people where they are? Could we risk death to follow our friend’s ways? It was almost too much to think about.
We were in shock. We were overwhelmed. We were afraid.

And as we sat or stood or paced in that locked room that evening, the sun was just setting. We could the fires lighting the homes around us, smell supper cooking in the neighborhood, and hear the sounds of children being called in from play. We were wondering if we’d ever have that kind of normal life again.

And just then, suddenly, Jesus was there in our midst. Was I the only one who saw him there, wishful thinking making him so lifelike before me? Was this a ghost, come back to punish us, to admonish us for leaving him, for being faithless? We thought we were afraid before! Now the our pain and guilt was amplified in the presence of the one we had abandoned, after everything he taught us.

The specter spoke, “Peace be with you.” Was this supposed to be a relief—a ghost who comes in peace? Had this one who just experienced such a horrific death, really come to bring peace? Or was it some kind of trick? It was apparent that everyone else saw him, too. And he must have read our minds because he showed us his wounds—that he was not a ghost but in the flesh—and he was really present there. Why would he want to be with us? We were supposed to be his friends and we hadn’t been there for him. Wasn’t it time to get some new and better disciples?

And then Jesus breathed on us, saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Spirit and wind and breath are the same word. He gave us his holy breath. He gave us the Holy Spirit—every last one of us.
We wondered what is this Holy Spirit? Of course now we know more about it. This is God’s Spirit that is always with us. It is God’s way of never abandoning us. It is a power that God has given us. We wondered how we would go on—how we would continue what Jesus taught us. We wondered how we’d heal and break down barriers and find the courage to talk to strangers and the dying and the imprisoned. But we’ve been learning to do it—not because of our own power, but because of the power of the Holy Spirit. Whenever we get discouraged or afraid, we remember that it isn’t by our own power, but with God’s help that we can do anything at all.

One of the most important thing the Spirit helps us with is forgiveness. We knew we were the first to need it. We had wronged Jesus so deeply when we’d left him to die. We had taken for granted our time with him. We hadn’t reached out to those in need. And yet, he came to us when we were afraid and gave us a word of peace. He’d forgiven us right of the bat. We hadn’t even asked for forgiveness. There may have been some of us who weren’t even sorry that we had high-tailed it out of there. But he offered us forgiveness nonetheless. There wasn’t anything anyone could do against us that was worse than what we’d done to him, and yet he came with a smile and handshake. We could tell by his demeanor that he had let it go. He was chatting with ease, telling us where he’d been and showing us his owies, checking in with us to see if we were ok.

We had been forgiven. There was not going to be anything we couldn’t forgive. We had to forgive ourselves, which is a lifelong journey of course. We had to learn to forgive each other. We had to learn to forgive others who hurt us, and that was always a balancing act. Some people tried to take advantage of that. We soon learned that to forgive doesn’t mean that we don’t hold people accountable. There are times when people must be held accountable or they’ll never learn the extent they hurt someone else and change their behavior. There had been real consequences to the way we had treated Jesus. He had died on the cross in agony. We’d never forget that as long as we lived.

This Holy Spirit gives us the power to forgive and other power as well. How has God empowered you? What has God empowered you for? What will you use your God-given power for this week? How will you share it with others? Is this a power over, or a power you can share, to empower other people? Peace be with you. Receive the Holy Spirit. Receive the power of God. Share the power of God. Share an experience of God’s love with those you meet, knowing it is God who gives you the ability and will give you courage to use your gifts for the good of others, just as Jesus did for us all.