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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Sermon at Holden's Baptism

August 28, 2011 Gospel: Matthew 16:21-28 Psalm 26:1-8
1st Reading: Jeremiah 15 2nd Reading: Romans 12:9-21

Holden Frederick, today is your baptism day—a day of joy for the family you are born into, a day of joy for your family of faith, and a day for rejoicing by the angels. You have come into this world all full of promise and hope. You’ve come into a family who loves you and provides for you. You’ve come into a community who has walked with your grandparents over the years and seen your dad and aunties born and grown up and married and been with them all in good times and in difficult ones, and now offering that same support and love to you. Today is the day that God says publicly and clearly how much God loves you, that God made you and claims you—you belong to God. And this church as a representative of the body of Christ makes some promises to watch over you and teach you and raise you with faith and hope. Today you gain a family and we gain a brother.

You already belong to God completely. God formed your little ears and toes and every little body part. God loved your cells into being and multiplied them. God made your bones strong and gave you a voice and nerves and systems and everything you needed. We didn’t participate very much in that miracle, except your mother eating right and getting her rest and exercise. Now God has handed you over to us all to teach and prepare for life and enjoy.

You’ve got a lot to look forward to. God’s world is fun to explore! There are all kinds of foods you’re going to want to try—some you’ll love and some might be acquired tastes. There are all kinds of textures to feel and put in your mouth and maybe your nose. There are all kinds of people to meet and animals to bum along with and songs to sing and feats of balance and agility to attempt. You’re taking in life every moment and storing it in that amazing computer God has given you, sorting and evaluating and trying again and perfecting skills. It is an amazing time in your life.

Even Jesus said so—you’ll be hearing a lot about this guy, Jesus, by the way. He said that we should all be like little children in order to experience the Kingdom of God. We all want to be like you Holden! Here we are teaching you to be like us, when really the goal is for us to reclaim that curiosity you have—your ability to trust, willingness to learn, flexibility, forgiving nature, and your joy. God says those should be our goals. You get to teach us!

We’ve come along way since infancy —some of us longer than others. We’ve been learning how to live in this world for a while now. Some of it has been very helpful: I tell you, there is nothing like being able to walk wherever you want to. Then you’ll want a tricycle and a scooter, then a bike and a car and who knows what kind of transportation they’ll have when you’re an adult! It is nice to be able to take care of your own needs and do meaningful work and say what’s on your mind. All those are good things about growing up.

And we’ve learned some bad habits along the way. We’ve learned to argue with each other, how to utter what is worthless, how to be arrogant and selfish, how to repay evil for evil, and so many other things we wish we hadn’t learned. And we have learned the selfish pursuit of saving our own life and put that front and center of everything. It can get to be all “me” first. That’s not all bad. We want to survive and prosper. But we also want to get our own way at the expense of others. We’ve learned to play some games that aren’t very nice. And we are going to teach you those games, too. Some you’ll learn at home, some on the playground, others at church or at work or in relationships. It won’t be long and we’ll be taking you down some questionable paths.

But it doesn’t have to stay that way. Our faith gives us other options. Jesus shows us another way. Jesus says, “let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” He says, “Those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Let me tell you, Holden, there are a lot of puzzles that you are going to run into. No one can solve these life puzzles for you. You’ll have to figure out what they mean for you. And you can have a community around you, also puzzling out these riddles with you. You’ll get to puzzle out what it means to find and lose your life. You’ll do it many times over. You’ll get to discover what it means to accept yourself and deny yourself. You’ll get to practice following Jesus and getting distracted from that. You’ll have a lifetime to puzzle out these sayings of Jesus and this is one of the more challenging ones.

Maybe it seems kind of ornery of Jesus to offer you a riddle, right now. But riddles make us think. They give us a chance to use our God-given wits. It might be easier if God would be more clear and lay it all out there, but I’m sorry to say that life isn’t so simple that one rule works for every situation. And God doesn’t insult our intelligence by pretending that’s the case.

Instead God respects us enough to let us figure it out for ourselves and with the help of others. It is a lifelong journey unpacking some of these puzzles, but you can also see it as an adventure. It isn’t about winning or getting it right. It is about walking with Jesus through your whole life and being in relationship with God and God’s people. It is about being in a conversation with God about what makes for a good and generous and fulfilling life. God doesn’t need us to get it right, because Jesus, God’s Son, took care of that on the cross. That makes us free to live our lives and to try to be loving and make this world better.

Today, Holden, you practice denying yourself, giving up your life, and following Jesus. We will get you wet in the font, a symbolic drowning, taking you through the waters, washing you clean, hearing God’s word of promise for you and for people throughout the ages, finding your part in the story of God’s people, and bringing you up into new life—one that isn’t defined by your mistakes or the world’s. This is a new life of second chances, of learning from history and from your past to try to find a better, more life-giving way. This is new life that is counter-cultural where you learn what doesn’t make sense for getting ahead in this world, but makes for a better world for everyone.

See it described in Paul’s letter to the Romans: being genuine, loving, honoring, rejoicing, persevering, contributing, blessing, living in harmony, being humble. And isn’t that the world you have now, Holden? You will come full circle, starting out an innocent child, living that harmonious life, being corrupted by this world, and then finding a better way and probably going round and round many times in your life and maybe even daily. And going to the cross doesn’t have to be so scary. We can practice dying every day to those things that don’t make this world better and don’t serve us or God or our neighbor. And when the time comes that we breathe our last breath, we don’t have to be afraid, because we’ve practiced many times before giving ourselves over into God’s hands and we know he will be with us every step of the way and give us eternal life, with God and all creation in unity forever.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Sermon for August 21, 2011

August 21, 2011 Gospel: Matthew 16:13-20 Psalm 138
1st Reading: Isaiah 51:1-6 2nd Reading: Romans 12:1-8

I promised to tell you about camp, and now that I have had a week to reflect, I might be able to start putting my experiences into words. I see some connections to the readings for today that I will try to explain. Let me start with a little disclaimer, that camp was an experience that is difficult to put into words, like many things in life.

The main connection with the texts and what I experienced at camp has to do with identity. There in the texts it is talking about who Jesus is, and who Peter is, and who we are—whether we are conformed or transformed. The readings explore who these individuals are and who we are in community and what it means to be the church.

Camp Odyssey was very much concerned with these issues too. We first built a safe place where we all trusted each other and learned to work together. We built community where we knew we could face tough challenges together and rely on each other, make mistakes and forgive ourselves and each other.

That was the first day when we had our challenge course. In our small groups we learned to problem-solve and work together using everyone’s gifts to reach a goal. For instance we were given 2-foot lengths of gutter and told to get a golf ball from point A to point B—a distance of about 20 feet. There were about 7 of us with pieces of gutter and we had to get it in a hat. The ball had to keep moving forward at all times. We problem- solved together. We learned to put our pieces of gutter at only slight tilts so the ball would roll slowly enough for the people at the front to get to the end and line up their gutter. We learned to point our gutters directly at the goal. We learned about communication and encouragement. We had a fabulous sense of accomplishment when we finished this exercise. And then we were given the extra challenge of having 2 of our group members blind folded. But we weren’t discouraged. We helped each other even more and met the challenge in even less time than the original assignment.

This community of King of Kings has built communication and trust and teamwork over the years. You didn’t have to do it all in one day like this group of teens. You’ve problem-solved and hit roadblocks and started all over again and encouraged and assisted and used everyone’s gifts. You have gone through your own challenge course, over the years, and become closer as a result and that will continue to go on. You’ll continue to face new challenges with hope as your mission statement affirmations suggest. On some of these challenges you will succeed and others fail, but you will know that you will be loved and included. It is really about the process of becoming together and learning who you are that matters rather than the end result about whether you met your end goal, whatever that is.

Jesus and the Disciples had a three-year challenge course. They worked together. They met challenges. They failed at challenges. They built confidence. They encouraged each other. They became a very close-knit community.

Once we built trust in community and confidence in ourselves, at camp, we moved on to learning about ourselves. We have to know who we are before we can begin to understand who another person is. You’ve probably seen this plenty of times and we’ve all done it—when we’re unsure of who we are, we might try to become someone we’re not. I remember when I was 12, getting a red ten-speed just like my friend Trinidy. She had one and I wanted one, too.

In the Gospel, Peter is learning who he is as reflected in the eyes of Jesus. Peter is becoming. He’s just tried to walk on the sea and fallen in and been called “you of little faith” by the person whose opinion he cares about the most, Jesus. Now, he gets it right and he’s being commended and told that he is actually a rock—that would make sense why he would sink. He is a rock—that would make sense why he is so dense and doesn’t get it. He is a rock—he is strong and faithful and Jesus will build something on this strong foundation. Peter is becoming. His identity isn’t so simple. He’s discovering who he is through experience and reflection and interaction.

At camp, too, we spent time reflecting on who we are as individuals and who we are as groups of people. We got into groups with those who were like us and tried to discern our own identity together. Being a woman, I got to ask with the other females, what does it mean to be a woman? Those of us who are white got together and asked ourselves, who am I as a privileged white person in this culture? Immigrants asked themselves what it means to be an immigrant in this country. It is a question none of the groups could answer for the other but we each had to answer for ourselves to know ourselves more fully.

We asked ourselves: Where do I come from? What are my communication styles? What assumptions do I hold about others and where do these come from? What makes me, me? What makes us, us?

The default answer to the question about who I am is just to give in to all the pressures and become conformed to this world. It might be easiest to make ourselves in the world’s image—to take on the priorities of the world, to believe the messages we hear that what is most important is to gather power, money, pleasure and focus on these. But even by the teenage years, most of us can see that this isn’t working. The campers could see how these pursuits were failing. They’d experienced divorce, alcoholism, violence. They’d seen the other side of power. They had all been personally hurt in someone else’s pursuit of power.

So what is the alternative to being conformed to this world? Paul says it is to be transformed and Jesus offers that transformation. Who among us can transform ourselves? It is only through interaction with others that transformation can take place. It is something that happens to us, not that we do to ourselves. But some of us seem more ready for transformation than others. How do we set ourselves up for transformation?

I saw all these campers, so honest about their pain, so open in their experiences, so trusting and eager for something different than the BS they were hearing from their families about who they should be and from the media saying who they should be and their school saying who they should be. They were so ready for transformation and they trusted us to take them through a process. At times they were angry at us. At times they almost gave up. We took them to the places they were most ashamed of and hurt by. And they stuck with it and faced how they had internalized all these messages from the world and put them on each other. Seeing that clearly, they were able to set them aside and really see each other as human beings, and allowed themselves to be seen as more than just a set of assumptions but as people, and they were truly transformed, and I was transformed, too.

Jesus too takes us the deepest darkest places within ourselves and asks us to look down deep—to see how we bind and loose one another with our assumptions and with our pressures of how others are supposed to be, how we keep each other down by not sharing what we have, by not seeing others as people, how not knowing who we are and who others are keeps us all imprisoned in sin. And Jesus goes to that darkest, scariest place within himself, where he feels abandoned by God and all his friends and where even his life is taken away, yet he still is. His identity stands in relationship—he is God’s Son, he is our savior, he is the Messiah of the world, he was there at the creation of the universe. Nothing could change that.

In the same way, nothing can change who we are at the core of our identity. Our friends might reject us. We might be losing our battle with a debilitating disease. Our child or parent or sibling might die. We might lose our home, go hungry, and be despised. Yet we are still of value to God. We are children of God. And this community as Christ’s body in the world is here to truly see each person as they really are and show each person that they are of value. The church is here to be a safe place for transformation and to encourage it in one another. At times the church may prevent transformation, which means it isn’t really being the body of Christ. At other times God works through the church to cause this transformation. It might be happening for one and not another, or we might be someplace on that journey of transformation and not even know it. Let us be open to God’s transforming love, being honest, looking deep within ourselves, learning who we are, and sharing of ourselves.

We didn’t talk much about God at camp. But those youth developed a love for one another based on truth-telling and trust-building and really seeing each other. They saw each other’s faults and weaknesses and continued to love each other and allow themselves to be loved. From what I know, God is love. I saw God/love reflected in that community at camp. I cried from the beauty of it. And I often see God/love reflected here, too, and am at times overwhelmed by it. Let’s offer that God/love even beyond our walls until those around us can see God/love clearly and be invited into their own journey of transformation until we can all be freed to become who we truly are.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

August 14, 2011 Aimee Bruno Gospel: Matthew 15:10-28 Psalm 67
1st Reading: Isaiah 56:1, 6-8 2nd Reading: Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32

When my husband Nick was two, his sister, Carrie, was born. The story goes that no sooner was she home from the hospital than he bit her. When I went to visit my sister after her 2nd child was born, I saw that kind of sibling jealousy. Her older son, Logan, who was 3 seemed to spend his days trying to destroy the new baby. He’d swing large objects near the baby’s head and attempt handstands over the baby. At one point, Logan took a nap. Upon waking, he happily skipped out to the livingroom. Then seeing his baby brother sleeping in the corner, his smile quickly turned to a glower and you could see the resentment in his eyes.

This subject of sibling rivalry is addressed in the readings for today. Does God have enough love for all of us? Some of us have come to faith early in life. We might consider ourselves the older sibling. When we contemplate new people coming to faith that might have different tastes than us and also need attention, we might feel pushed out. Some of us have more recently come to faith. We might be considered the younger sibling. We might look up to those who have gone before, but we might have different needs and a different way of looking at the world than those with more faith experience.

The Old Testament reading from Isaiah is written for the Israelites. God loves them. God will bring them joy. God will deliver them. God will gather them. They are the older sibling. And there will be some unexpected people among them. Foreigners and anyone who loves God and joins themselves to God will receive the same treatment. They are the younger siblings. God reassures both of them, but especially the older sibling that there is enough love, joy, deliverance, and community for everyone, even the outcast. And God’s “house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” And God promises to gather others besides the ones already gathered.

The second reading is going out to Gentiles and Jewish people, both siblings at once. Some of the Jewish people who were Christians were worried there was no longer a place for them, now that the Gentiles are being converted. Paul reassures them. There is room for everyone. God has enough love, joy, deliverance, and community for all of you. You, the older sibling, aren’t being replaced. I love this new sibling of yours, but I still love you just as much. Yes, even when you mess up and are disobedient. Your younger sibling is just as disobedient as you are. You both are loved.

And in the Gospel, Jesus has some competing children vying for his attention. He’s with his disciples, teaching and healing Israelites, the older sibling. Then a Canaanite woman wants his attention, too. He seems to ignore her at first. I don’t want to make excuses for him because he does seem rather rude. Although by that day’s standards, she would have been considered the one being rude and he was doing what was in his rights to do—ignoring some strange woman yelling after him. Even today, you and I would probably do the same and walk a little faster to get out of there. But, we’re used to Jesus being compassionate and sensitive, and telling us to treat others as we’d like to be treated. This seems a little out of character for him.

The woman asks Jesus for help. First, he ignores her. She keeps asking. Then he tells her that he’s not there to help her and her daughter, the younger ones, he is there for the Israelites, the older ones. She kneels at his feet and begs. He insults her and tells her no again. Still she doesn’t give up. She says, even dogs, even nobodies have a place at the table. There is enough for everyone. She knows that. She has to believe in a God of abundance. She is preaching the message to him. You’d think it might be the opposite—that her sick child would have made her discouraged. Instead her situation made her more stubborn and more demanding and more faithful. Being stubborn and demanding, Jesus says, is a sign of faith, so do more of that!

I always believe that when we plead with God, God hears our prayers. God’s answer might be different from the one we wanted or expecting, but God always offers healing of some kind and hope. But sometimes we interpret the situation we’re in as God saying no and wouldn’t the more faithful thing be to heed God’s no and move on. We might say to ourselves, “God knows best. I shouldn’t bother God. A lot of people have it worse than me, I am not worthy of God’s attention and care.”

This Gospel says to keep fighting. Keep up the faith. Keep reminding God of the help you need. There is enough life to go around. It isn’t a matter of deserving it. We all fall short and are disobedient. It is a matter of Christ giving his life so that we would have life. Christ gave his life so that some of those crumbs of life could fall down to those who have fallen through the cracks so that we could all have life. Claim your crumbs, people of God!

Of course God works through other people, too. That’s why the Isaiah reading says, “Maintain justice, do what is right, for soon my salvation will come.” We get to do the right thing which is part of God’s plan for salvation for all people. When we do good to others, it is God doing good to others. God works through us to bring salvation to all people, the long-time faithful and the newly converted and those who don’t know yet about God’s family and the place there for them. We need to be sharing our crumbs and more than our crumbs, because in the end Jesus didn’t just give the leftovers. Jesus gave his whole life that the cosmos might have life, so that those without hope could have hope.

Since God works through other people, it isn’t just him we can be pleading with to help us. God comes to us through the people we meet and this Gospel gives us permission to pester them. Your pastor is here to help you—don’t worry about bothering me. If you even think there might be a way I could help you, come on by and ask. If I forget or something, ask me again, even four times, like this woman here. Don’t worry about exhausting me. I always learn something from every conversation, from every interaction. I always have more to learn and you help me do that when you ask for my help. There are other people, too, in this community and in our world who help you and I hope you ask for their help and accept it.

There is a generational way of dealing with authority. Many of you are used to doing just what your doctor says, not wanting to bother him or her with too many questions, not wanting to question authority. I’m asking you to make a cultural shift to see that, like your pastor, your doctor isn’t perfect either. Your doctor is often rushed and sometimes doesn’t give you the care you need. But either you or Medicare are paying for care, so ask the questions. Make a list of the things you’re concerned about. Bring someone with you, a friend or family member, who can help you interpret what you hear and ask the questions.

I think of Dina from our congregation. For months she hurt and had unexplained bone breaks. He doctor told her to lose weight. Her doctor told her to go home and do her exercises. I don’t want to make you distrustful of doctors, but it was her persistence that finally paid off. In her desperation she kept going back and asking for help, pleading for some kind of relief, until finally they diagnosed the cancer that was behind all of her problems. If we don’t stand up for ourselves, who will? So I want to encourage you to ask for your needs to be met. First you want to figure out what it is you want or need. Then don’t be afraid to ask, because your family wants to help you. Your church wants to help you. Your doctor wants to help you.

Here we are, the older sibling and we want to know if there is enough of God’s love to go around. We liked things the way they always used to be. We’re not sure God has enough attention for our needs and for the needs of a broken world. We’re not always sure we can sustain the pantry. We’re not sure we’d be willing to do church a different way. We like being the only child. But the new sibling is here, the outcast and stranger at our doorstep, and things are changing whether we’re ready for them to do so or not. The church as it has existed cannot go on the same way it always has. It has to make room for the new siblings that also need God’s love and probably even extra attention at first. God is reassuring us. God knows it is scary. And God wants us to know we are loved, no matter what. God has our best interest in mind. Even though these new siblings might be needy and immature and can’t do a thing for themselves, they will grow in the faith and it won’t be long until they strengthen us. For now they teach us compassion and love and sharing. Later they will teach us companionship and support and make us stronger in our faith.

Reach out to your brothers and sisters in the community to help them and to be helped by them, just as God reached out to you when you were a useless lump and saw the value in you and what you would become.