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Monday, December 24, 2012

December 16, 2012

Gospel: Luke 3:7-18
1st Reading: Zephaniah 3:14-20
Psalmody: Isaiah 12:2-6
2nd Reading: Philippians 4:4-7

About 4 pm on Tuesday I read on Facebook that there had been a shooting at Clackamas Town Center. For the next two hours I was reading news stories, listening to OPB coverage, looking out our church windows at the lights of the mall, and praying for everyone involved. Many of you were also praying and anxious about loved ones who were there or might have been there. At this time of peace, a troubled young man enters a building to destroy. At this time of joy, shoppers huddle together in tears in the parking lot. At this time of hope, we wonder are things getting worse. At this time of love we look at the stranger next to us with suspicion. Do we have reason to be afraid?

Sigh of relief
Then Friday
We jump to quick easy answers.
That doesn’t allow us to feel our feelings.
Sadness, anger, fear, numbness

We don’t just grieve what’s happened this week but other losses we’ve known.
Into this world, a child is about to born. He’s a vulnerable little guy without anything to protect him. God is coming in here to do something about all this. God isn’t going to sit idly by but is going to react. God is springing into action.

Now we are at this crossroads, waiting to see what kind of action it will be. We know the end of the story, but doesn’t it still seem possible that he will take up arms and fight the enemy? That’s the way most of our story books and novels and favorite TV shows and movies go. We meet violence with violence. If we’re honest about it, that’s what we think the solution really is. Even John the Baptist is not sure what God is about to do or what kind of Messiah this will be. He warns of the wrath to come and the ax just waiting to do violence to the tree and the fire that will destroy. But he also indicates that violence might not be the answer. He says not to get too comfortable thinking that your religion or family tree is going to save you. There are new ways of measuring whether you belong to God or not. You can know you are Godly through nonviolent means, by how you share, if you can be satisfied with less, if you are honest, and if you do your job well.

We’ve got this way of violence that we often turn to and we know the rest of the story, that God disagrees with our violent ways. God insists that violence is not the way and is not going to show us by strong-arming us or using violence or punishment against us. Instead, God absorbs that violence that we are dishing out. First God lives in this violent world and tries to show us how to respond to violence with sharing, being satisfied with less, honesty, and living out your vocation/calling (doing your job well.) And then God endures the most miserable violence that we can dish out and dies on the cross rather than raise a fist to defend himself. He shows us how to live in violence and how to die to violence. He shows us how not to meet violence with violence, but how to live in true peace.
Feeling of helplessness.

What can we do?
Feel our feelings and grieve together
Pray for peace.
Let the people know they are not alone
What has helped you in times of grief?
Write a note.

What not to say: It was God’s will. God needed another angel. God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.

What to say:
I don’t know what to say.
I am thinking of you.
What to do:
Be with those in need.
Be a good listener
Tell your friends and loved ones that you love them.

Take a long look at ourselves and our society and try to really understand what creates these situations of violence and what we can do to be peacemakers. We all claim these children as part of a national tragedy. Do we also claim the perpetrators of violence as part of our national tragedy. How did we fail these young men? What message do we send in this society that sends these men to take innocent lives?

Now we are at a crossroads with the shooting and violence down the street from us. We can respond with violence. We can arm ourselves. We can live in fear and suspicion of our neighbor. Then we become the very one we hate. We aren’t creating the peaceful world we want to live in, but one of more fear and violence.

Or we can respond with peace, with sharing, with loving, with opening our arms to others around us. We can take a moment to remember what matters most. We can take the time to let those we love know how much we care. We can lay aside our differences and come together to give thanks to God.

I think we can agree that we can give thanks for the helpers that far outnumber those who cause violence.

Because of the hope that God brings this time of year, coming in peace as a little babe, I have hope in the vision that he provides that will come to pass when we all participate in his ways of peace. There will come a time when brother does not take up arms against brother, but embraces and forgives. There will come a time when military might does not determine who wins, but people will refuse to fight and instead listen to one another in love. There will come a time when the economies of the world do not hinge on making weapons of war, but instead we’ll put our energies into making sure that everyone is fed, that all have medicine and shelter, that all who suffer mental illness can receive treatment, that walls and barbed wire fences are torn down between us, when we learn that sharing is more effective than taking, when we learn that we will not only be satisfied by less, but that less is better, when we do our job with the intention of making this world better rather than getting a paycheck, when we find that honesty and integrity not only build us up, but build up our neighbor and our world. Sometimes this kind of world seems so far away, but it is only as far away as we make it. And it is only a promise away—one of God’s guaranteed promises that we can count on, that we can participate in, that God is bringing to us even now.

Make yourself as vulnerable, innocent, and hopeful as a little babe. See the wonder and potential of this world. Be ready to rediscover it again as God transforms it into one of peace and sharing and honesty and joy and hope.

Friday, December 7, 2012

December 2, 2012

Gospel: Luke 21:25-36
1st Reading: Jeremiah 33:14-16
Psalm 25:1-10
2nd Reading: 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

You can tell a lot about a tree just by looking at it. You can often tell approximately how old it is. If you drill into the tree and take a sample through the center of the tree, you can tell exactly. And you can tell which were lean years of drought and cold and which were years of plenty of water. You can tell by branches which have been broken off, if another tree nearby fell on it. You can sometimes tell if a snow or ice storm broke off branches. You can tell by the cones whether it is healthy or not.

God is causing a righteous branch to spring up for King David. This is a family tree that has been grafted onto, been uprooted and moved several times, and has experienced times of flourishing and thriving and times of great suffering and want. At times it has sheltered widows and the poor. At times it has withered under the heat of the day. It has even been chopped down, as the Babylonians moved in and took over, occupying Israel, taking the Israelites into captivity, and keeping them under control.

Now a righteous branch is springing up where everyone thought the tree was dead. I’ve got a few trees that send out these branches in my yard. Maybe you have one, too. One is our cherry tree. Those extra branches have to be cut off every year because they take nutrients and strength from the main tree. But if the main tree ever died, those branches would make sure that it lived on. The other trees we have, come from a neighbor’s tree. He cut it down a couple of years ago because it is an invasive species. But that tree has sent out roots in every direction so that the ground is just thick with these roots. Every so often another tree tries to come up right next to our house. We’re going to have to call an exterminator, or arborist or whatever, because the roots can get under the foundation and destroy our house.

The kind of trees that send out these branches are insidious. They have developed this survival technique and it is very effective. It is very frustrating for us. But we are actually just like these kind of trees, aren’t we? Human kind has become an invasive species. Try to cut down our family tree, and we will destroy your foundation. We do all we can to survive and procreate and populate whether we are welcome or not or whether there are enough resources or not. In our time, we have to work to balance our needs with the needs of this planet. In the time of Jeremiah it was necessary for the mere survival of humankind. Stubbornness was a virtue that meant that your family line would go on, that your bloodline would survive.

So now King David’s line is going to survive because of this little branch coming from what everyone thought was a dead stump. At the time this was written, it was to give hope to a people in despair. You are stubborn. Your line will survive. Do not fret.

This was written with the Messiah in mind. Now we read it and see Jesus in it. Jesus was born in David’s family lineage, in Bethlehem, the city of David’s birth. We’re supposed to see the family resemblance. Jesus is a branch on the same tree of the one everyone in Israel remembers as the best King ever. Will he be the acorn that didn’t fall far from the tree? Will he be just like King David? Or will his people not recognize him and try to cut him down, too? Will they nail him to a tree, trying to graft him to our methods of death and control?

As the little fetus Jesus is growing large in his mother, we read about this tender shoot just peeking out above the earth, a vulnerable sign of life where there had been no hope. But there is something powerful even in the tiniest signs of persistent life, such as these. Life is going on despite despair and suffering. Something new can happen even when it seems that all hope is lost—something powerful and glorious.

Trees not only tell you about themselves and what has happened in the past. They can tell you a lot about the health of the environment around them and what is coming. They are signs telling the future, in a way. Jesus says, “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near.” The trees are getting ready. If you look at a tree that loses its leaves right now, you’ll see buds of next year’s branches. The tree prepares itself for what is coming next. And you can look at a tree and see damage from beetles and know that a whole forest is about to be wiped out. Right now, trees that grew only at lower elevations are being found further up on mountains. Because of climate change, it is warmer higher up and it is affecting where trees can grow. Trees in this case are giving us a message that our planet is changing. They are signs of what is coming.

Jesus is telling us to pay attention to these signs, whether they are like historical markers, signs telling us of what has happened in the past, or signs of what is coming in the future. Jesus doesn’t want us to be caught of guard. He says that things are changing, but we don’t have to be afraid. Lift up your heads. Look up! Stand up! Get a good vantage point to what is happening.

Those who are afraid look down. It is like the ostrich with its head buried in the sand. If I can’t see them, they can’t see me! God says, it is coming either way, whether you choose to see it or not. Are you going to let yourself be afraid of this change? Are you going to just let it happen and not be prepared? It is better to pay attention and see what is coming so you can be ready. Open your eyes, because even though scary things are happening and people are getting confused and anxious, God is in control. God has the power and glory. It is in God’s hands. It will ultimately be all right.

These readings could partly be about the changes that are going on in our world and the church being ready to meet the needs of the next generation of believers. Will we be anxious about the future and pretend that changes aren’t happening? Jesus says there is nothing to fear about the future. God will be with us as we prepare for what is coming.

These readings could also be about changes in our lives as we age. Do we pretend it isn’t happening because we fear what the future holds? Jesus says that he will walk through it with us. Even though it is scary to lose control and to endure the pains that aging brings, God will be with us and God will ease our pains and give us peace and bring us home. Our tree may look like it is dying, but new life is apparent, and growth is happening.

And these readings also refer to the coming of God’s Kingdom. Some say it is going to get worse before it gets better. I suppose that was true of Jesus’ crucifixion. But God used a hopeless situation to bring life. God can use the really bad stuff, the scary stuff, to bring hope and life. God has got it under control and we don’t have to be afraid.

The tree of life has endured many trials, drought, windstorm, blizzard, ice, pruning and grafting, infestation, fire, flood, and everything else imaginable. Yet we are all branches on this tree. Jesus is the trunk. God is the roots. We are part of each other. We have permanent unity. We have the light of Christ to warm us. We have the water of life nourishing us. We are all in this together, part of each other. So let us go forward with boldness and hope, growing, shading, feeding, healing, and living.

November 25, 2012

Gospel: John 18:33-37
1st Reading: Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
Psalm 93
2nd Reading: Revelation 1:4b-8

“Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come.”
“Grace to you and peace from God who was.” This is God we read about in the Bible, that we’ve gone to Sunday School to learn about in our Bible lessons. This is God who always delivers the people, who spoke to Abraham and promised that he would be a blessing to all nations, who wrestled with Jacob, wounded him, and renamed him Israel, who led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt by a pillar of smoke and fire to the promised land, who led the people out of exile returning to Jerusalem, who was born a human in a manger when there was no room in the inn, who calmed the sea and fed the crowds, and who gave his life and was raised to share new life with us.

This God-who-was shaped a church, a community of believers and gave us the traditions we have today. God-who-was shaped a reformation in which people were empowered to become the priests that God made them to be. God-who-was inspired people to write hymns and liturgies to give words to express the depth of faith and the depth of thanksgiving that God’s people have felt over the years because of all that God has done. Witnesses to God-who-was shared the good news and brought many to faith, some by force, and others by birth, and still others because of persuasion.

We have a pretty clear picture of God-who-was because that is God in history. We can look at what has happened and interpret it in the light of God’s activity in the past.

“Grace to you and peace from God who is.” How is God active and relevant right at this moment? When we can make ourselves aware in the moment, we can see God all around us in creation, in the changing leaves, in the abundant water making our grass so green, in the sliver of the moon at night, in the geese honking through the sky, in the mountain shining in the distance. We can see God in the blessings of family and friends, of food and shelter, of heat and running water. We can see God in the poor around us, the hungry, the shivering, the homeless, the incarcerated, the ill and let them teach us how to be generous and loving, and gracious and hopeful.

And we can share stories in the moment of where we see God. We can tell the truth about our experiences. We can listen in truth to the stories of others and hear their need and pain and suffering. We can speak truth when the powers of this world, of force and wealth and might, try to tell us that they speak God’s truth. We know better. We see the inconsistencies. We can point them out. We can be witnesses to truth, testifying to the truth, as unpopular as it is. And we can seek to live the truth, to let the truth live through us, as we try to make our lives reflect the Kingdom of God that we are living in and that God is bringing to our world.

Most people don’t see the relevance of the church today. We have to make it relevant to this moment. We have made it relevant to the past and brought the best of our history and the best of the stories of the God of the past to speak to our faith today. But we have not always made the case for what the church is doing, what the body of Christ is doing to alleviate suffering today, to bring people together today, to break down barriers today. Yet this is the God who is, the God of the present, the God who is present now. We can live the God experience today in such a way that bears witness to God’s power and presence today. We can live a genuine experience, live our lives today in ways that speak a genuine word of hope and love and reach out to those hungry for God’s presence today.

“Grace and peace to you from God who is to come.” God has always been bigger and greater than yesterday and today. God has a greater vision than any of us can see. We are invited to look to the future and catch a glimpse of what the future might hold. When God led the Israelites out of Egypt, God went ahead as a pillar of fire by night and a cloud of smoke by day. God was trying to lead them by a vision of what could be—a land flowing with milk and honey, another kind of kingdom than they had ever experienced, another kind of leadership, another kind of unity, another kind of hope.

Maybe people would say we are na├»ve, but we do have a vision of a future offered by the God of the past, present, and future. Our current situation is temporary. It will pass away. God who is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, has an end in mind that is better than any we create. God has a leader in mind, much better than the leaders and kings and Presidents we have now or have ever had. It isn’t something that might be. Our future is guaranteed.

In this vision of the future, God’s Kingdom comes, just like we pray every Sunday. In God’s Kingdom, no one is hungry, no one is crying, there are no enemies, we listen to each other, we tell the truth, we give of ourselves for the greater good, we recognize our power and use it for good, all the peoples of the world start looking out for each other, peace reigns, we are all free, we are all loved and we know it, we give credit to God and thank God, we all see clearly, no one is falsely accused, and Jesus reigns. It seems we are light years from that Kingdom, but Jesus says it is coming into this world.

I saw a sliver of the Kingdom of God this week, God’s vision for the future beginning to be realized. I saw it at the Thanksgiving Eve Service when churches came together to sing and give thanks to God. In some places churches would be divided, competitive. Some of our former members from King of Kings are members of those other churches. Some of our members used to attend those other churches. Yet we are glad for each other that each person can find a church home. We don’t have to be divided by our differences, but we can celebrate them and celebrate that we have choices so we can worship God in the way that touches our hearts the most.

I saw another sliver of the Kingdom of God in families giving of themselves in volunteering over Thanksgiving. People took this holiday as a chance to gather food for those in need. Several people dropped off donations and checks for the pantry. Some people took the holiday and spent it dishing out food at meal sites and conversing with people who don’t have a friend in the world.

I saw another slice of the Kingdom of God, in families learning to get along, to look past their differences and come together to share warmth and joy.

I saw another slice of the Kingdom in a cease-fire in Israel/Palestine—a first step on a journey of peace that is guaranteed when we align ourselves with that Kingdom. And I saw it in minds more aware and minds changed and wanting to make a difference after watching a thought-provoking video about the history of the conflict in the Holy Land.

God’s Kingdom was, is, and is to come. We’ve seen where it was. We are learning to see where it is and be witnesses to that. And we are learning to let ourselves see what we have always hoped for but were afraid to let ourselves get our hopes up for. Yet God’s Kingdom is more than a hope. It is a promise and God is the one most trustworthy who always keeps his promises. God, the Alpha and Omega, A through Z, our everything, the beginning and the end, everlasting Ancient One, the Almighty has brought his Kingdom to earth, is bringing his Kingdom to earth, and will bring his Kingdom to earth, God’s vision finally realized and God’s rule finally complete.