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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

July 29, 2012

Gospel: John 6:1-21
1st Reading: 2 Kings 4:42-44
Psalm 145:10-18
2nd Reading: Ephesians 3:14-21

If you would have asked me a couple of years ago, I probably would have told you that I didn’t believe in miracles. The sick are healed because doctors do good work and people feel the support of their family and friends across great distances. This Gospel story of the feeding of the 5000 is a story where one boy decided to share his lunch and everyone else got out their picnic lunches and shared them, too. And don’t even get me started on the Virgin Mary.

I am part of a cynical generation. We are known for our wry sense of humor. We question everything. It is a rite of passage to reject everything our parents believed in, God, America, family, to prove that we are our own person. We may or may not be in the same generation, but I know you’ve experienced it to. We are in an age where we know everything about every politician. Someone that you might have wanted to vote for now has their affairs broadcast in great detail on every internet news site. Books are written tearing people down, prying into their lives until nothing is left to the imagination. In some ways more information is good, because who doesn’t want to be informed. On the other hand, some things just shouldn’t matter, and yet they do.

My cynicism, like a lot of people’s, started with my teenage years. That’s when we all start to realize that there is so much suffering in this world, that the good guys don’t always win—in fact they seldom do, that there are wars and disease and terrible things going on and very little that anyone is doing about it. We notice our parents being hypocritical. We wonder if there is anyone or anything that we can rely on.

And religion isn’t immune from this cynicism. Read your history and you can see how people have misused religion to gain power for themselves, to hurt other people, and to control people. It is no wonder people are suspicious of religion and people of faith.

On top of that, it has been a tough couple of weeks in the news. A week and a half ago, we had the shooting in Colorado. I read a story in Rolling Stone magazine about climate change and how by the time Sterling is 16, we’ll be at the tipping point of environmental collapse. I read how fossil fuel companies are literally invested in burning 5 times the carbon that our planet can handle without whole countries being submerged in the ocean and society breaking down and our planet being too hot to support the foods we love to eat, that we need to eat. I just didn’t realize it was happening as fast as it is.

This kind of news has a numbing effect. Sometimes I find it hard to have hope. I want to do something, but I know what I’m doing will never be enough. I picture all the suffering people and I can’t do a darned thing to help them. It is hard to believe in miracles when the world is falling apart around us.

And yet, today, I can say I believe in miracles. I’m in a little different place—a little more hopeful place, than I was a few years ago, because I am aware of miracles going on around me. I’ve seen real miracles. I know it is a miracle that happens to almost every woman eventually, but in the past year I’ve grown a child inside my body, experienced the miraculous growth, felt every miraculous kick and hiccup. Now I get to see a human being learn every little thing, which is a kind of miracle.

I also believe in miracles because my child believes in them. If you want to see a miracle, watch a toe wiggling in a sock, watch a butterfly flit around your yard, sit down and really taste your food like you are trying it for the first time, watch light patterns stream through windows, stare in the face of someone you love, listen to some music, sit in a breeze, study a set of keys. All these things I took for granted for so long, are now new again. Things I quit noticing, I notice again and appreciate. Many of you experience this now through grandchildren or great grandchildren. Those everyday things have been miracles all along, just now I see them for the miracles they are. And what a miracle, our five senses that we have to explore our world.

We find hope through these new little people who show us miracles every day. Because of that hope and that belief in miracles, we will do what it takes to make more miracles happen. Because we believe in miracles, we won’t return violence with violence, but we’ll find a way to forgive. Because we believe in miracles, we’ll give our time and our money to make sure that other people get to experience the miracle of their child being well fed, receiving medical care, and growing up in a world without the fear of violence. Because we believe in miracles, we’ll lobby our officials to change the rules so we don’t pollute and ruin this beautiful planet that we want our grandchildren to experience.

The one miracle I’ve always believed in is that God came as one of us to experience our life, died and rose from the dead to give us life. Even if we can’t believe in miracles, or there are times in our lives when we quit noticing miracles, God believes in us and works miracles through unlikely, clueless folks. God keeps pouring God’s abundant grace into us. The abundance of God is all over the stories for this morning.

In 2 Kings, Elisha looks at what little he has, just 20 loaves of barley bread and some flour. He questions what good it is going to do when there are 100 hungry people to feed. God tells him to share it and let the people eat. And they do and there are leftovers.

The Gospel reading parallels this reading—even the kind of bread is the same, barley loaves. The Disciples have been around long enough to know they want nothing to do with a hungry crowd. Have you heard this new word “hangry?” It is a combination of “hungry” and “angry.” I know being hungry doesn’t make me a happy person. This crowd is going to be hangry any minute now.

I love that it is the little boy who saves the day. He is the only one na├»ve enough to think that he can make a difference. He believes in miracles. He has been learning what the adults have been teaching him—how to share. They have been teaching him what they don’t remember how to do. Now he is going to show them what it means to share. He gives without regard to whether he’s going to get any. He doesn’t eat his lunch and give what’s left. He doesn’t just give 10% or 2% of his lunch. He gives it away in a bold offering. It is only a little, yet it is enough because Jesus is enough. Love is enough. God is generous and when we have faith in him and are generous, it is enough. Jesus can use us to make a miracle if we will let him instead of being cynical and afraid and greedy.

The second reading speaks of the “riches of his glory.” The God would use God’s power to strengthen us. That it isn’t our own power, but Christ dwelling in us, rooting and grounding us in love. The prayer is that we would know Christ’s love and be filled with it, that we would be filled with the fullness of God. Because of this, God is able to work through us more than we can imagine. We have the power to make this world more just, more peaceful, healthier, stronger. Or rather it is God through us who is doing miracles everyday, right in front of our eyes, and is asking us to participate in his miracles of feeding the hungry, healing the sick, comforting the bereaved, and caring for nature and our planet so that it can continue to support abundant life and future generations can continue to know the grace that we know.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Sermon for July 22, 2012

July 22, 2012
Gospel: Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Psalm 23
1st Reading: Jeremiah 23:1-6
2nd Reading: Ephesians 2:11-22

This week, at Vacation Bible School, I made a little boy cry. It will probably take me longer to get over it than him. In fact he was back the next day and feeling fine and we had a positive interaction, although I was sure not to mention the previous day’s incident. I didn’t mean to hurt his feelings. Sometimes I forget that some people see me like the principal of the school. I am in authority. These kids don’t know me, even if I know them, even if I baptized them and pray for them. Of course the last thing we want from Bible School is for a kid or volunteer to have a bad experience of church or the pastor. It is all about having a good experience. But any time people come together, whether it is for VBS or anything else, the potential for division is automatically created.

I hurt this boy’s feelings and now I hear from Jesus’ own lips, “Woe to the shepherds that scatter the flock.” I just know he’s talking about me. This boy will be fine and hopefully have not lasting effects from this shepherd, but what about all the other people I’ve offended or driven off or failed in one way or another?

This isn’t just about pastors either. You might not consider yourselves shepherds, but you are Christians, held to a high standard. It says in the Gospel of Luke, “To those whom much is given, much is expected.” There are people who don’t like you, who have hurt you or been hurt by you, people with whom you feel a wedge in your life, where the hope of reconciliation is pretty much nonexistent and that a conversation about a toy boat can’t fix. Yet much is expected of us, who have been given everything that means anything, from God, our father.

We’re separate and broken from each other. That’s part of being in a state of sin. And woe to us! Yes it does feel pretty woeful. I hate conflict. I want everyone to like me. But to be in relationship is to take a risk—a risk of hurting someone’s feelings. We can’t all agree. We don’t all communicate the same way. We all have different levels of sensitivity. We’re all going to experience woe, and the regret of scattering the flock, of breaking something that was beautiful, of driving away reasonable people.

The Old Testament reading speaks of a scattered remnant. If you do any sewing, this brings to mind of course the scraps, the fabric left over at the end of a bolt of material. If you don’t sew, maybe you can relate to using scraps of wood or what is left of a can of paint to complete a project, or using the leftovers in your kitchen to make something delicious for dinner.

I love remnants. My grandma made me a quilt out of remnants. Looking at it with my mom, we point out together which blocks were made from scraps from my mother’s childhood dresses, or aprons grandma made. The scraps bring back memories of more than what we wore, but of what we did as we wore those handmade treasures. The quilt brings back memories of twirling skirts, or cooking with mom, or rolling down the hills, or getting ready for bed.

It is so much fun to search for exactly the right piece of fabric to complete a project. Often at the fabric store, I stop by the shelf of remnants to see what’s there. It is all half-price and I can’t resist a bargain. You never know what you might find, that you wouldn’t have thought of, that will work for a project in progress.

My favorite place to get scraps is at the Goodwill, and more than that at the Goodwill outlet store, or “The Bins” as it is commonly known. There I dig through mounds of clothes, broken toys, bits of paper, and every other kind of trash you could think of to find treasures. Once I spent a half an hour gathering beautiful glass beads at the bottom of one of these bins. I spent about 25 cents for what I would have paid more than ten dollars for at the regular store, but I had to dig and pick every last one of those little beads out of the bottom of that bin. At the bins I’ve found maternity clothes, books for children and adults, a plastic storage bin that I use as a tub to bathe my giant baby. The thing I like to find most is fabric remnants. I especially love it when I find some quilt squares already assembled. I made a quilt for my cousin’s wedding from 10 large quilt squares I found at the bins. Sometimes you find some already assembled squares plus some pieces cut out ready to be sewn and often fat quarters of the same fabric waiting to be cut to fill in the gaps. I don’t often have the time and patience to make a whole quilt myself, but if I can complete someone else’s project, it can be very satisfying. I try to imagine the person that started this quilt. Did they give up? Did they die? Who was this project intended for? I like picking up where they left off.

Jesus loved the remnants, too. He loved everybody, but the remnants were crying out to be used in a project of God’s design. They were just begging to be gathered. The sick were following him from place to place in the Gospel, just hoping to touch the remnant of his cloak, to feel connected to him, to find hope, to believe wholeness was possible for them. He needed some rest, but he also had compassion for them and he was trying to balance the two.

We have a tendency to scatter the flock. We tend to break apart what God has brought together. Of course we try not to do it and we try to learn from our mistakes not to repeat them. I know that with small children, I should consider asking their grandparent to explain things to them, instead of doing it myself. I need to carefully choose my words and actions. I want to be someone who gathers rather than scatters. And yet I am aware, that I, too, am a remnant, a scrap that experiences separation from others. I need Jesus to sew me together with other scraps to make something beautiful and useful. In some ways all I can do is to be available to be sewn together. I can be aware of my incompleteness. I can look forward to making connections with others. Maybe I can smooth out some of my rough edges so I can fit with others around me.

We rip apart the fabric, saw the wood, and cut the vegetables. It is usually with the intention of making something from it. We aren’t trying to be hurtful. Sometimes someone else has started the project and we get to be Jesus’ sewing machine or hammer helping to put things together in a new way, to make something useful out of what was just a scrap, a remnant, a nothing. Sometimes we start a project and someone else gets to finish it. But always it is God working through us to gather the flock, to heal, to feed, to soothe, to bless.

Jesus is digging through the trash heap, but he doesn’t see trash. He sees something ready to be gathered, healed, adopted, brought into relationship, sewn, glued, or attached. Jesus sees the potential there in the remnant, rather than the deficiency. Jesus looks with eyes of hope, with creativity to bring together unlikely combinations to make stunning designs. We tend to scatter. When we do, let us look to God to put us back together again in unexpected ways. Let us be ready to be healed, to be brought back into relationship with those we might have written off. We are all reaching for the fringe of his cloak to be joined with him, to have new life. And we find him reaching out to us and we find ourselves joined then to everyone else, no longer a scrap, but part of something bigger, a web of compassion and love, a quilt of new life, a house of warmth and shelter, a meal of healing, the body of Christ.

This week, I made a boy cry at VBS. But God gives us second chances and often so do little boys. Maybe that’s part of what Jesus was saying when he told us to be like little children. He wanted us to forgive. So God took the scraps, the scattered remnant and sewed us back together again. God is restoring us to health and wholeness and making us part of God’s beautiful quilt, a creative combination of colors and shapes, to bring warmth and life into our lives and the lives of those around us.

Sermon for July 15, 2012

July 15, 2012
Gospel: Mark 6:14-29
1st Reading: Amos 7:7-15
Psalm 85:8-13
2nd Reading: Ephesians 1:3-24

When I was growing up, my grandmother mail-ordered books for my sister with her name in them as the name of the hero. To us, it was incredible that my sister could become the main character of a book! I don’t remember much about them except that one had space aliens in it and another had something about candy, two very important topics for little kids. And my name appeared too as the big sister.

Today, we are co-authoring a story with God. It is even more than blanks left and names being inserted. God writes and we write and together we weave a story of creativity and hope and joy and challenge and suffering and triumph. It isn’t just a story to write and to read, but a story to live. It is a story of relationship, a life of relationship and a story we know the beginning to and the end of, but the middle is still in process.

We know the beginning. We know a loving God created us to be in relationship with God and with all creation and with one another. And we know that isn’t always easy. We know characters before us have screwed it up and been given second chances and remained in relationship and struggled and come through it.

And we know the end, that in the fullness of time, God will gather all things together, in heaven and on earth, and that we will all be together with God. Sorry to ruin the end for you, but I think you knew it anyway. In many good stories, you have a feeling it is going to turn out ok, but it is how the characters are going to get there that is so exciting. For instance, Harry Potter: You know he’s going to be ok because there are 5 more books, but you’re at the edge of your seat wondering how he’s going to get out of this impossible situation, and he always does. It is the same with us, that our story goes on, and God’s story goes on. Sometimes we’re at the edge of our seat wondering how.

Let’s look at the first reading for this morning. Amos was the very first prophet. We get the benefit of reading his story thousands of years later, but think what it was like for him to live this story. We know the beginning, and so did he, that God created him and everything and everyone around him for relationship. And we know the end, that God will draw everything and everyone back together. The middle chapters of this book are being co-written by God and Amos. You might not think God would co-write a book with a shepherd and arborist. He’s nobody special. But God had been trying to co-write with the religious leaders and kings of Israel and it hadn’t been going well. The kings wanted to write their own book with themselves as the heroes, and themselves getting the money and women and land in the end. God was tired of that kind of trashy novel. The story God wants to write is leading to an ending with everything being drawn back to God. The story these important people are writing is driving a wedge between people.

God wasn’t going to give up on Israel either, because remember that God is all about relationship. So God goes to Amos, who isn’t distracted by all these other concerns and gives him a message to tell about holding Israel accountable and holding up a ruler, a plumb line to measure them by, a kind of an outline to follow when writing.

I think Amos responds like any of us would when invited to co-author a life with God and to go and speak a hard truth to the rulers of Israel. “You don’t want me, God, I’m just little ol’ me. I’m nobody special.” But God says to him, “You’re exactly who I’m looking for, someone not too full of himself, someone in relationship with animals and trees who can translate that caring to people and show them how to care for each other and get back to writing the story that God has in mind for them.

What happens next is that Amos warns the people. They don’t listen. They go into exile. God stays in relationship with them. They start to get it. God brings them back to Israel and in some ways their story still goes on, as they write a story together with God. The beginning is clear, God creating them and loving them and choosing them. The end is clear, with God drawing them all together again. The middle is still being written about whether or not they love their neighbors as themselves and difficulties and joys they face and God walks with them through the whole story.

Ephesians also talks about this story the people of the church in Ephesus write with God. It affirms the beginning where God chooses them and blesses them. And I also think this is our story. This was for the early Christians. For later Christians, it also holds true. Notice in this story, God is very active. God is the hero, not us. God chooses, blesses, bestows grace, destines, redeems, forgives, lavishes, gathers, marks, and accomplishes. We are co-writers, though, too. Our active words are believe, hope, hear, and praise. We are more recipients and yet God clearly works through us, as flawed and helpless as we are, to bring the kingdom of God to those who need it most, to bring justice, to share, to love, and to carry God’s story to people who might not have experienced it before.

Now we come to John the Baptist’s story. Kind of a downer for the middle of the summer as we’re getting ready to kick of VBS! We know the beginning of the story. God created everything including John, Jesus’ cousin. As a fetus, John lept in his mother’s womb when Mary came with her baby Jesus bump to his mother Elizabeth’s house. John was a wild, fiery guy. And we know the end of the story, that he was gathered together with God who never left his side, despite a gruesome death and many difficulties. God and John were writing the story of his life. John was very aware of that plumb line, that measuring stick. Herod had crossed it when he married his brother’s wife. There was a lot of corruption in this family and John wasn’t going to keep quiet about it. And Herod knew John was right. He was afraid and intrigued at the same time, so he would go and listen to John sometimes. A part of him wanted to write the story of his life the way God would have it go. Part of him wanted to do what was right.

Unfortunately, he probably had too much to drink and was showing off for a big crowd and because of that did something he probably regretted the rest of his life. He had John beheaded.

One thing I really like about John the Baptist was that he didn’t really know who the Messiah would be and what he would be like. But he was still able to point to him. He went around stirring people up to give up a life where they were the hero of their own story and to let God play that role. They were baptized into a new life of repentance to get ready for the coming Messiah. John knew it was imminent, even though he didn’t know what it would look like or what it would mean. Still he was able to pave the way for Jesus.

So God is writing the story of our lives with us as the co-authors. We know where we come from, from our good and loving creator. We know where we’re going—to be gathered together again. And we’re still writing the middle chapters of our lives or maybe some of the later chapters. There are times when God is calling us in those chapters and we’re humbly declining. “But God, I’m just a regular person. You couldn’t really want to use me to help other people, to speak up when I see an injustice, to change the world to better reflect the story that God intends for all people.” And God is saying, “I said what I meant. I choose you. Now let’s get to work!” And we get to do God’s work, feeding people, visiting the sick and imprisoned, speaking the truth even when it hurts, giving of ourselves and our time, and praising and thanking God.

“In the fullness of time, God will gather up all things in himself.” When you hear this, do you think of heaven, after we die? I do, too. But there is something about the word “time” here that you might not notice. This is not about chronological time. It is a “kyros” moment. Earlier in the service we sang, “Kyrie eleison” or “Lord have mercy.” Kyrie refers to our Lord. Kyros is from that same word. A kyros moment is a God moment. We don’t have to wait until we die to have God’s kingdom here on earth. Jesus says, “The Kingdom of God has come near.” It is breaking into our world, even now. Now is the fullness of time, when God writes the story with us. God is here now. And we can help usher in that kingdom now when we do justice, when we love others, when we quit making ourselves the hero of our story and instead put Jesus front and center. Then others experience the kingdom here and now where everyone has enough to eat, where there will be no more weeping, where all are welcome and all know God’s love.

Sermon for July 8, 2012

July 8, 2012
Gospel: Mark 6:1-13
1st Reading: Ezekiel 2:1-5
Psalm 123
2nd Reading: Corinthians 12:2-10

The 4th of July is something we can all get behind. Who wouldn’t want a day off work on a warm summer day? Who doesn’t like picnics and parties? Even if you don’t agree with everything our country is doing, we still love our country and appreciate our freedoms. And add to that a number of bright explosions in the sky, and you’ve got the perfect day. Aren’t fireworks amazing with all the power of the lights and sound, the whizzing through the air, zigzagging, popping, glittering! It is truly a display of power.

On the 5th of July I read a story about Depoe Bay that didn’t have a fireworks show because of the danger to sea birds who leave their nests because of the noise and return to find that predators have ruined their nests and eggs. I also heard an interview on the radio with Portland’s new fire chief and she mentioned the impact on pets and veterans with PTSD. We had a new perspective of it this year with a baby finally going down for the night at 11 pm, 3 hours later than usual.

I began to wonder whether it takes more power to have a fireworks display or not to. Maybe there was more power in their putting someone else ahead of themselves, than in all the loud booming fireworks that the rest of us shot off.
“Power” is the theme for this Sunday. I see a common thread about power in all the readings for today, but before I go into that I first want to talk about why the subject of power might matter to us.

Power is kind of a scary topic for a lot of people. It might especially be for meek Lutherans. It is for much of society who sees a lot of misuse of power in government or who associate power with power over, or abuse of power by dictators, or corporations, or doctors, and so on. I’ve learned a lot about power in the Metropolitan Alliance for the Common Good, or MACG, power is simply the ability to act. It is the ability to get something done. It is a tool that can be used for good or ill.

Churches used to be a powerful force in our communities. I have often heard people lamenting the times when Sundays were sacred and Wednesday evenings were reserved for church night. Soccer practice was held other times. The church has lost that automatic power. A pastor was given more authority and perhaps respect. That could be good or bad depending on how that pastor used that power. Now I have to convince you of what I am saying. And I’d rather you asked questions and thought for yourselves rather than do what I say anyway. In the same way, the greater world needs churches to prove that they are worth supporting. Pastors and churches have to earn that respect. Do they give back to the community? If I give my volunteer hours and money to a church will they use that power to make this world better? This kind of scrutiny is good for us because it helps us see what builds up the kingdom of God, what is doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with our God, which is our mission and purpose.

I also think we experience a lot of powerlessness in our lives. And these readings help remind us not to give up in those moments but that God can work with that. God can bring something powerful out of a situation of rejection and helplessness. God did that with Jesus on the cross and does that often with us, especially when we work together with others and share our power to get something done, like we have with the pantry and like we did with the Domestic Violence Survivor House.

The readings are all about power. The first reading is about the power of God. God reminds Ezekiel that he is just a little mortal human being. God is so powerful, that even though the people won’t listen, God is going to keep hounding them until they do. And we know that eventually they get it, since this writing from Ezekiel makes it into the Bible. Although God may seem weak since the people don’t listen, God is loving and persistent, and triumphs.

In the reading from 2 Corinthians, Paul is writing with authority that he can’t claim for himself, but he hopes that his readers will bestow on him. He’s just a little servant of God with no power of his own. Yet Paul has something to say to the people in Corinth, so he’s trying to convince them to listen to his important message. He wants to be powerful in their view so they listen, understand, and act accordingly.

Paul is talking about the power and authority that comes from God. It isn’t the kind of power that compels people to do whatever God wants or Paul tells them to. It isn’t the kind of power from the Roman Empire where people and nations obey Caesar or they get annihilated. It is the kind of power that is shared. It is the kind of power that takes a risk and reaches out a hand in friendship. It is power with. Because whenever you reach out a hand in relationship you can get rejected, it is a kind of power in weakness. It is a power that says we can do this better together. It is a more difficult kind of power than power over if you are the one in authority.

Now we come to the Gospel for today. Jesus comes to his hometown. He’s already shown that he can heal and feed people and speak with authority. Yet nobody in his hometown is open to that power. Jesus isn’t going to force them to be. He’s not going to use power over. He wants power with and they are unwilling and they lose out.

Then Jesus teaches the disciples how to have power with. They go out in pairs, supporting one another, modeling cooperation. They don’t bring so much they are self-sufficient. They are going to need the people they meet. They are going to need to build bridges and share power in order to survive.

They are going to have mixed success. There will be some people who reject them. In a power with situation, you put out your hand in connection and relationship and some people accept it and others spit in your face. When the disciples are welcomed, then Jesus encourages them to stay until they leave. Good advice for any of us. And when they are rejected, no skin off their noses. They can go on their way. No sense in making a big deal out of it. As a result of this approach, many people were helped.

The power of God stands against the powers of this world. There are a lot of powers at work in our world. Some of them are for good, but a lot of them hurt people, too. People have lost power in a lot of ways as they lose their jobs and then their homes. People get sick. People are sad and grieving. We work more hours. We are torn in a million different directions. Our school class sizes keep growing while our education budget gets cut every year. All of these powers are putting pressure on us.

Jesus came redistribute power, to empower those who were on the fringes, who didn’t have enough to eat and who were barely alive and who no one would listen to. That’s what we call justice—redistributing power so it is more equal. The church is a place where we redistribute money which is one indication of power. If you remember last week we had a lesson about sharing our money so that the one who had much, didn’t have too much and the one who had little didn’t have too little. It is about stepping in and using our power as a buffer in people’s lives, so that when the pressures of the world come crushing down, we help deflect those pressures. For example, when people meet the pressures of unemployment, they can continue to live and feed their children because of the food pantry. And best case scenario, the churches help get at the root causes of hunger so someone never gets into that situation in the first place, which is what I‘ve seen with the campaign to get rid of payday loan businesses. It is about restoring health so that people can be contributing members of society, which Jesus tries to do in today’s Gospel reading. It is about making sure that people have enough to eat, that they have a say in their communities, that they share power across all lines.

We use a power-with model because of who God has been for us. God decided from the very beginning to let people make up their own minds. God could have created a world where we all obey. But God gave us free will. God didn’t want to make us worship and acknowledge him. God wanted a real relationship with a feeling, thinking person. So here we are. God chose power with rather than power over. God wanted a relationship, someone to collaborate with and share with. Sometimes he reaches his hand out and we spit in his face. God reached out to us and we crucified his son. God has a weak spot for humankind, but God’s power is made perfect in weakness.

Any of you with children can understand. It might be easier if your children did everything you wanted and liked all the same things as you, but then they would just be you all over again. How boring would that be? Instead, you humble yourself to who they are becoming and let them develop and wonder in the beauty of it—the utterly frustrating beauty of this whole new person that you can’t control, but who you can have the most interesting relationship with and learn from and see yourself reflected back in.

Our God is powerful, so powerful that he can take a risk and be vulnerable. God’s power is made perfect in weakness. God’s power is love which does not compel or force. We are God’s people and our power is also love. Let us not lose heart when we face rejection or the daunting task of redistributing power, but let us instead use that power with others around us to make our neighborhood more like God’s Kingdom everyday.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Sermon for July 1, 2012

July 1, 2012
Gospel: Mark 5:21-43
Psalm 30
1st Reading: Lamentations 3:22-33
2nd Reading: 2 Corinthians 8:7-15

I’ve mentioned before my best friend growing up dying when she and I were both 14 years old. I used to think of her every day. When that stopped, I felt guilty. Was I forgetting her. Now I don’t think of her very often at all. But the last two weeks she’s been on my mind. The week before last we had the lesson of Jesus calming the storm. That was the scripture read at her memorial service. This week we’ve got the lesson of Jesus raising the girl from the dead. Of course, my friend Charmin came to mind again.

When she died, we didn’t have a lot of explanation of what had happened. It was sudden. A few months later her mom came to visit and to tell us more what had happened that day and the events leading up to her death. It was so nice of her to do it since we had so many questions. I think it helped us to grieve, to be able to ask questions, and to have more of a picture of what went on. And I’m sure it was good for her, too, to recount the story to friends, and to try to make sense of what happened. I remember my mom trying to find the words to express how sorry we were and how much we felt for her, losing a young daughter like that. And I remember Charmin’s mom saying that it must have been God’s will.

That’s the way she was making sense of it. It was what she needed to say to bear her pain. It was what she needed to hold on to as she pictured her daughter in Jesus’ arms, at peace and unafraid, waiting for her family to join her, there with her father by her side, who had also died of the same heart condition as a young man.

The Old Testament reading for this morning says, “Although he causes grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone.” This is kind of a mixed message that God causes grief but not willingly.

The Bible isn’t exactly clear on this, because the writers of the Bible weren’t clear on it. What is the cause of suffering? If God is all powerful, then isn’t it God’s power which makes sick as well as heals? Or is it another force of chaos and evil that makes sickness? Does God let this other force run rampant? Why does God let bad things happen to good people?

Let’s see what the Gospel is saying about it. So we’ve got the story of two very sick people. Jesus is once again crossing into an unfamiliar place where he might be uncomfortable, where uncomfortable people are laying in wait to grab him and take him home to treat their friends and family members. Jesus is asked to use his healing powers to help a girl who is very ill. As Jesus is walking with him, someone else interrupts for healing. And then the story continues with the healing of the little girl.

You’ve got two very different people who come to Jesus for healing. One is a very important official making an appeal on behalf of his child. He’s got it all together, normally. The other is an unclean woman who no one will go near, hopeless and alone—someone who can’t even pretend to have it all together. These two very different people find themselves level with Jesus, level with each other, seeking the very same thing, meeting the very same Jesus, sharing the very same page of the Bible, the same paragraph. No matter how rich or important you are, you will know illness and grief. And no matter how poor and forgotten you are, you matter to God. Both of these people know pain and suffering. Both of these people are loved by God.

For those of us who like to have things all together, probably everyone here, we still need God. We iron our shirts (or our wife does). We eat right. We exercise. We speak properly. We get a good education. We show up to work. We sit and stand with the asterisk. We pray our prayers. And just like everyone else who doesn’t do these things, we get sick. We lose people we love. We die. And Jesus is there for us.

For those of us who are a mess, who cry in public and embarrass ourselves, who only have time to throw our shirt in the dryer for a moment to get the most obvious wrinkles out, whose shoes smell like mildew, who are unshaven, who limp about, Jesus is there for us, too.

And it is a good thing, because even if we were the one in the all together category we will inevitably find ourselves in this second category. I hear about that struggle all the time. When one can no longer drive, those who once had it all together, now have to ask for help getting place to place. It is a difficult situation to face that loss of independence. To have to rely one someone else is less than ideal. You have to be flexible to someone else’s schedule and reliability. You have to accept their vehicle—is it going to be too high to get into, or too low to get out of? Will it be so clean you can’t eat your snack in there or filled with junk so you can’t fit your bags in there with you? Will the person drop you off and pick you up or wait with you through your shopping or appointment? It isn’t easy. Whereas you once had the ability to do what you want when you wanted how you wanted, now you rely on others who don’t do things the same way you do.

It is a similar situation when you were once healthy and now you’re getting older, can’t climb ladders or eat sweets or hear very well. I experienced it too in my pregnancy. I had to rely on other people. I had to let them love me the way they wanted to, not necessarily the way I would want them to. It turned out to be lovely, but it caused plenty of anxiety. It was probably good. Any anxiety I had about the birth was nonexistent—I transferred it to silly things like my baby’s carbon footprint and not wanting to be the center of attention when I was as big as a house.

Ok, we’re going to have times of trouble no matter who we are. And Jesus is there for us, no matter who we are, according to this Gospel. The general and the old widow get the same treatment. Each approach Jesus for help. They are both quite desperate. They’ve got nothing to lose. They’ve tried everything else. Jairus, the religious leader, is confident. The widow is more meek. She doesn’t want to bother Jesus, she just wants to touch his cloak. Both of them believe in the power of God for healing. One marches right up to Jesus. The other sneaks up.

Jairus is probably used to asking for what he needs. People respect him as one of these folks who has it all together. They give him what he asks for.
The woman has asked and asked. She’s spent her last dime and endured many treatments with no effect. She’s at her wits end. Perhaps in their frustrations, her physicians have made her feel it was God’s will. They might have asked her many questions about her medical history which made her feel guilty. “Do you drink? Do you smoke? What are your eating habits?” These kind of questions don’t directly blame the patient, but don’t you feel kind of guilty as you’re putting down how many drinks a week? Maybe that is why she doesn’t ask Jesus. Maybe that is why she approaches with fear and trembling when he asked who touched him. Maybe she did feel she deserved her disease. Or maybe she thought it was God’s will in some way.

But this scripture makes it clear that it is not God’s will. Jesus came for healing. Jesus came to restore relationships between people. Jesus came to heal this world, to restore balance, to heal people’s physical bodies, to heal their minds of terrible thoughts of God inflicting people with tragedy and sickness. He is going to Jairus’ house, not ignoring him. He isn’t too busy to stop for a woman in need. He touches her even though that makes him unclean. He gives her a clean bill of health physically and spiritually. She is restored. Since he’s already unclean, he might as well touch a dead girl. And in some foreshadowing of his own resurrection he says, “Little girl, be resurrected. Rise up.” And immediately she rose from the dead, just as he would and she began to even walk around, not just lay there in bed.

Any of you who have been close to a child who has died, know how unsettling it is on top of all the other grief. There is that unsettling feeling that this isn’t the way it is supposed to be. God feels that way when we are sick or hurting and sends us Jesus, our great physician, to show us that God is a healer, not an afflicter.

God does not make us sick. God comes for healing. Sometimes that is for our bodies. Sometimes that comes through prayer. Sometimes it comes through doctors. Usually it comes through both. And yet we all know we’re going to die someday. Even Jesus had to die. But we can know that “Whether we live or we die, we are the Lord’s.” Jesus will be with us, his broken body at the side of our broken bodies. And he goes to the cross and grave to show us how to die everyday, to practice dying with him and to hear the words “Old man, old woman, rise, get up, you are resurrected with Christ!” Just like I know my friend, Charmin, heard those words, “Little girl, get up!” and welcomed her into his arms. Just like her mom heard those words, “Grieving mother, rise, get up. God is with you as you try to go on with your life having lost your baby girl.” God says to us, “ I, too, know what it is to lose a son and I will be with you through all your losses and bring you together on the last day.”

And leave it to Jesus, that the next thing he says after telling them to get up, is to say, “Let’s eat!”

Sermon for June 24, 2012

June 24, 2012
Gospel: Mark 4:35-41
Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32
1st Reading: Job 38:1-11
2nd Reading: 2 Corinthians 6:1-13

I remember in the early planning of the pantry Debbi saying to me, “Maybe one of these days you’ll preach about the pantry.” And now I feel like I preach about the pantry almost every week. King’s Cupboard has become such an integral ministry to King of Kings. It has taken us places I never dreamed we’d go, sometimes headfirst into brick walls and other times with doors and relationships and hearts opening wide before us. I see it as a sign of health that it can continue and be passed down to another set of leaders. I see it as a sign of health that even this old frail congregation can sustain a ministry as big as this and be rejuvenated by it, and experience leadership development by it, and stretch our compassion by it to people we’d never otherwise meet.

In the Gospel lesson for today, Jesus and the disciples get into the boat with a plan to cross to the other side. Many times this congregation has crossed the sea by night. Crossing to the other side means taking a risk. It means going to a place where you aren’t sure you want to go—where there are a lot unknowns. It means crossing boundaries to where you won’t be comfortable, where you might not belong, to the people who are different from you and who you don’t necessarily like. This congregation has headed across the dark seas when you’ve worked through your feelings of betrayal when you were hurt by a previous pastor or two. You’ve risked meeting people you might not like when you opened the church to the homeless for the Westwood Guest House. You’ve stepped onto a listing boat when you started tithing our offerings to help those in need around the world. And in starting the pantry, we took a leap of faith to cross the sea by night, to an unknown destination, where we didn’t know if we’d be welcomed, to unknown perils and risks.

And yet it seemed we couldn’t not go. Trudy was moving away. She’d run the pantry for JOIN clients from her home. The food moved to the church. We had to make room for it. We stuck our big toe in the water as we delivered bag after bag of groceries to people clear out in Gresham to overcrowded apartment buildings, sometimes not even knowing for sure that they’d really be there to get the groceries since they couldn’t afford to pay a phone bill.

So we were saying, we can do better than this. We can be more effective at this. Looking at our gifts, we had space downstairs that went mostly unused. We had supplies taking up room on the shelves—items that hadn’t been used in years. In digging through all that there were some wonderful surprises, purple die cut crosses to give out at Lent, supplies we could use if we just knew they were there, bookmarkers to give out to the kids, craft paper and about glue and on and on. This was the time we were preparing our boat to make the journey. And among our supplies we found a passion for feeding the poor, for crossing boundaries. As people who like to eat and are passionate about it, we found that we wanted others to eat well, too. And we found we had a new member with experience at the Oregon Food Bank with a vision of what would need to happen to get these boats on the water where they would be useful. We had Debbi who had confidence and vision and who could articulate that vision. When she talked about the pantry, she made it come alive in other people’s imaginations. They could imagine crossing this big sea even in the night, not knowing exactly what would be on the other side, but trusting in her experience and God’s providing to help guide us across.

Once you embark on God’s journey, you want it to feel like a blessing right? Don’t you know it will be smooth sailing if God is on your side? Not so much. God’s journeys are fraught with peril. Inevitably, you get a distance from shore and the storm comes blowing in. I was looking through this list in 2 Corinthians of all that they had been through as they were serving the Lord, every kind of terrible thing—beatings, hunger, imprisonment. Well the pantry hasn’t been that difficult, but I could easily call to mind a list of storm contents faced by the pantry, arguments between those in line for food, language and cultural barriers, boxes of rotting produce, the cost of pears and cauliflower, volunteers who don’t let you know whether they can come help, the ambulance being called a couple of times for clients who fell, somebody’s kid running loose clogging the toilet with TP, a volunteer who isn’t being friendly and welcoming, a client who takes more than their share, somebody’s bags of groceries going missing, and on and on. It is a regular soap opera here some Thursdays!

And we’re in the boat rowing to where we’re supposed to go. And we’re getting grouchy with each other—everyone loses patience occasionally. And we’re yelling at God, “Don’t you care that we’re perishing here!” Shouldn’t God give us an easy ride since we’re doing what we’re supposed to?

Of course it doesn’t work that way. Following Jesus means following the road to the cross. And it isn’t an easy road. We’re marching to our death. I don’t mean our literal death, but that we are marching to the place where we let go of
expectations, where we let go of who we thought we were. We thought we were this compassionate, welcoming church. We’re about to find out if we really are, when someone’s kid colors on the back of the pew. We said we wanted children, well here they are. Are we willing to deal with it, with grace? Will we reach out in love to that family or will we get excited that the furniture is getting ruined? Do we care more about our things than our relationships? Is there a way to take care of what God has given us (our church building) and take care of what God has given us (the people of God here on Thursdays who need lots of love but sometimes aren’t that easy to love.)

And here we are rowing, not sure if God is noticing, hoping that God will make it easier for us, and we don’t hear a peep from the bow of the ship. Our Sunday church attendance is staying the same. We’re getting tired of rowing—some of our volunteers are experiencing fatigue. We’re not sure if we’ll have enough bread this week. “Answer us, God! Wake up!” we shout.

Through all this our God is calm. He’s been through this before. He is in charge even when it seems like chaos. He’s not afraid. He is the boss whether we live or die. We will be with him whether we live or die.

If you’ve ever been here on a 2nd or 4th Thursday, you’ve seen that kind of chaos. People are moving in and out of the building. There might be a parking spot or there might not be. The line can start forming at 8 am some days even though there is no benefit to being there that early and there is no explaining that to some people. Children are playing. Clients are sharing pantry tips—where the new pantries are, when they are open and how to get there. Names and numbers are being called. Volunteers are carrying groceries this way and that. It looks messy a lot of times. And yet a lot of good things are happening. Smiles are shared. Clients bring in hats and scarves they’ve made for JOIN and we give them yarn that’s been donated. Sick clients are being prayed for. They are putting in prayer requests for friends and family in need. They are getting food they’ll actually eat and recipes that are easy to follow and affordable. They are getting samples to try that encourage them to cook from scratch or to use some weird item they are going to get downstairs. And people leave with more than bags of food. They leave with dignity. Many of them say, “Thank you!” Even this chaos leads to something good. Even the wind and sea obey him. God can make sense out of a mess like this one. God can teach an aging congregation how to grow their welcome. God can teach grumpy volunteers to love the toothless, the pushy, the smelly, the batty.

And now God has spoken the words “peace, be still” to Debbi. And she’s actually listening. She knows it is time to let others row the boat. They might not row it just how she pictured it, but the sea will be crossed and the boundaries will be crossed and this stormy miracle will continue to happen. I hope we all listen for those words. I looked for a blessing for today for those on which there are so many demands and who need to take a step back and all I found was prayers to help us power through and keep on working harder and harder. This is an unhealthy pattern. At some point we have to stop and be still. We have to give up control. We have to trust our storms to Jesus that he can work through other people too to row the boat and do the ministry.