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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

December 15, 2013

Gospel: Matthew 11:2-11
1st Reading: Isaiah 35:1-10
2nd Reading: James 5:7-10

What are we waiting for? What are we expecting? Are we expecting the same ol’, same ‘ol? What are John and Jesus preparing us to expect? Finally, what are we going to do about it? What are we waiting for? Let’s get moving!

Are we expecting that some things never change? Sterling has come to expect certain patterns. We turn on our block and he shouts, “Our house!” He has come to expect “Farmer’s market,” “Grocery Outlet,” and “Fred Meyer.” He has come to expect daddy home from work at a certain hour and watches the door expectantly at that time of the evening. He has come to expect Susan and Betsy and Marlene and Don and Harry and Gene and Mary at church. We said the Lord’s Prayer at our Advent service the other night and he turned to me and said, “Bread.” He knows to expect communion directly following the Lord’s Prayer.

But this season, we are also preparing him for what is new. We point out the Christmas lights. We explain about Santa and show him pictures so hopefully he won’t be scared out of his mind if he sees Santa in person this season. I talk to him about the star and baby Jesus and bells and Christmas lights and trees and stockings and soup. We’re preparing him to expect something a little different from what he’s used to.

We don’t just expect it, we help bring it about. We put a can in the food barrel together. We go and see the Christmas lights. We decorate our house. We share the stories from the Bible. We gather with family. We wrap gifts and talk about God’s gifts to us. Who knows how much he can understand, but we find he’s paying more attention and soaking up more than we think. Last week he suddenly said, “I’m two years old,” and held up two fingers. For months, we were preparing him, saying that to him with no response, hoping by the time he’s four, he will be able to let people know. Next thing you know, he’s got the complete sentence and the hand motion together.

In these Bible readings for today, people are expecting things to be the same as it ever was. Are you expecting to see a reed shaken by the wind? Are you expecting a leader who bends to every wind of opinion, that is influenced by the powers of this world, who gives easily to a tiny breeze of pressure from those in power? Are you expecting someone dressed in soft robes? Are you expecting someone whose interest is in keeping himself comfortable, who amasses wealth and pretty things to make himself look good? Why shouldn’t they expect those things? That’s all they had ever seen. Why should this be any different?

Well, it is different, because God has come to intervene personally. John and Jesus are telling them to expect something different. This is no minor tweak. This is a matter of turning the world upside down.

Are you expecting to see the blind remain blind and the deaf remain deaf and people be unable to walk? Why would we expect any different? We’re so fortunate to live in the times that we do, that many people can be healed. We’ve had many people going blind who received their sight through cataract surgery. Raise your hand if you’ve personally experienced this miracle. Both Ed and Susan have had sight restored after tears in their retina. Greg walks up for communion after several back surgeries. Folks formerly homeless find themselves serving the homeless and sharing with those who are less fortunate.

In Jesus’ time, if you were born blind or deaf, you could expect to remain that way. People were blamed for their disability or their parents were, even up to a couple of hundred years ago and even sometimes today. But the strange thing is, many diseases were preventable, as they are today. With clean water, good hand washing, proper sanitation, safe food handling, many diseases and problems could be prevented. The Roman Empire had the technology and ability to provide these services, yet because of greed, the focus on acquiring and controlling people, they only provided it to the elite who could do something for them, not the regular little person. In fact, by not providing these services the Roman Empire ensured that the poor would remain sick and powerless. It was a way of controlling the little people. If you’re always sick, you don’t have time or energy to spend fighting the empire or making your voice heard.

Unfortunately, that is still the value system of those in power. They bow to the rich and keep giving favors and good conditions to the rich, but to the poor and inconsequential, they don’t do squat. It keeps some people using all their energy just to feed their families, so they have no time to work for justice. The rich have access to all the best everything, write off multiple homes off their taxes, and are protected. The poor are left on their own, food stamps cut while corporations get bigger and bigger tax breaks, access to the worst health care if any at all, lying awake at night wondering how to get by.

One of the worst offenses in my mind, is the power companies. People get behind in their payments. If they could pay it, they would. These are the poorest of the poor. They are choosing between eating and paying to heat their homes. They call me with their shutoff notice. They have exhausted their options with payment plans and one-time only grace periods. If it gets shut off, they pay hundreds of dollars in fees, when it doesn’t cost the power company one cent to shut it off. They do it electronically. So the poorest of the poor are paying these huge fees and they couldn’t even pay their bill to begin with. In some other states, this has been declared illegal and I think we need to make this happen in Oregon. If you can pay your bills, you’d never know about this. But if you are poor, more is heaped on you until you’re completely overwhelmed. It is completely unacceptable.

We could expect everything to stay the same. Except Jesus is coming into our world and turning it upside down. He is saying that his value system isn’t about profits, money, or greed and ours doesn’t have to be either. The blind are seeing. The deaf are hearing. The lame are walking. Not just physically, but spiritually too. That he would bring this kind of healing and wholeness, was directly challenging the Roman instrument of death and control that kept people sick. It was telling the Romans they couldn’t keep the little people down. And it was about opening the eyes of those who could only see a value system which puts the self and the pocket book first at the expense of others. It was about opening the ears of those who could only hear the wealthy, to listen to the stories of the poor and forgotten—to hear how they got to that point, that systems were built to keep them down and despite making every effort, they still found themselves destitute. And it was about helping people walk those places they never walked before—to ask the question about what it would feel like to live this way as some of you did many years ago when you took the homeless immersion and slept on the streets of Portland for a weekend.

Whether we are waiting for history to repeat itself over and over endlessly and nothing to change, or whether we are waiting for God to turn the whole world around, the question, “What are we waiting for?” is a rhetorical one that means of course, we’re not waiting any longer. We’re going to live this new value system of God’s and not the world’s death-dealing one anymore. We’re going to do something about it. There is no need to wait for anything.

When we come to this place and gather and treat every last person with the same love and welcome, we are living in God’s new value system. When we not only feed the hungry, but share in conversation and make connections with them, we are living in God’s new value system. When we don’t ask or judge who is deserving, but share generously of all we have, we are living God’s new value system. When we pack lunches for backpack buddies, write letters to our legislators, let people cut in line ahead of us, sit with someone who is alone, we are living God’s new value system.

I’m not a big fan of patience. The reading for today speaks of patience. However, this is not a lot of sitting around waiting helplessly for something to happen. This is active patience, that doesn’t get discouraged because other people are sitting on their hands. This is patience where you follow through on God’s value system and aren’t using the excuse that no one else is. This is long-suffering patience, like the prophets, where they did what God asked of them, despite the scowls, the imprisonments, and the disapproval of the community that was still holding on the to the me-first value system that is business as usual. Don’t give up. God’s value system will win the day. We just have to decide whether we are going to stand in the way of it, or be a part of it.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

December 1, 2013

Advent 1
Gospel: 24:36-44
1st Reading: Isaiah 2:1-5
2nd Reading: Romans 13: 11-14

This scripture has excited the minds of many Christians who have invented the word “rapture” and decided that this scripture combined with a couple of verses from Revelation means that when Christ returns, those people who are good enough will just disappear, as God “raptures” them to heaven. From what I understand it is kind of like beaming someone up in Star Trek. So you see the bumper sticker: “In case of rapture, this car will be unmanned.” A whole series of books and movies have come out of this whole idea of who will be “Left Behind” and what will happen to those people.

I don’t think we need a bunch of fictional books to wonder what it is like to be left behind and what happens when we are left behind. We have it right here. We have widows and widowers, orphans, parents who’ve lost children, those who have had a sibling die. Why do some die, while others are spared? In a typhoon or hurricane, some family members survive and others are swept into the sea. In a car accident, one might die and another survive. In war some make it home and others come home in a casket. And in life some live long healthy lives and others die much too soon. We already know what it is like when some are taken and some are left behind.

My grandparents were married 65 years when my grandpa passed away. My grandma was left behind for another 5 years. She had a really hard time going on without him and spent a lot of time wishing she could be with him. She was waiting expectantly to be reunited with him in the next life.

Grief: What can I say about it that you don’t already know? It is that painful loss. It is that slight relief. It is guilt. It is anger. It is complicated. And the world wants us to move through it and get back to business as usual as quickly as possible, because each loss is a reminder of other griefs and reminds others that sooner or later we all get left behind. That’s very uncomfortable to think about.

Those who have died are already at peace, bathed in God’s glorious light and presence. They live in the reality that Isaiah is talking about in which peace reigns, the focus is on God, and God’s light illuminates everything. Those of us who are left behind are in another reality altogether—the reality of loss and broken hearts and no appetite and depression.
What do the rest of us do while we are left behind? The first thing is to let yourself grieve. You can’t push it away. You can’t avoid it. You just have to go through it. Don’t let anyone tell you to get over it or let you think that a year or two years or even more is too long to grieve. In some ways, we would probably like to move on sooner and put our life back together. But in that loss, part of you is here in this place, on this earth, and part of you is with the person who has died. You become a bridge between heaven and earth—alert and awake to the ways God’s reality is breaking into our reality.

When you lose someone so close to you, that person is always there in your mind. The veil between heaven and earth is very thin. You’ve got a foot in both worlds. Sometimes that person seems so close by. The memories are so vivid. The dreams can be so real.

Grandma wanted to die, so that she could cross that veil, that barrier, and be with grandpa again. But the truth is, heaven is breaking into our world. She didn’t have to go anywhere to experience God’s Kingdom. It was coming to her all along. God’s Kingdom is coming here—that’s why we say, “Thy Kingdom come.” That’s what Isaiah is talking about when he says that God will be established on the highest mountain and all the nations will flow toward it and we’ll all learn God’s ways and walk in God’s paths. That’s what Jesus talks about in the very next chapter of Matthew when he says, “Just as you did this to the least of these my brothers and sisters, fed, clothed, visited, tended, you did it unto me.” Jesus’ reign is extended to the earth when these things happen and we visit or feed or love others.

We’ve got two realities, here. There is the reality we live in with suffering and violence and war and hunger. Then we’ve got God’s reality, a promise of what will be, where there is peace and plenty and acknowledgment of God’s authority and agriculture. It may seem like those are light years away from each other, but God is telling us to look around and see how near they are to each other. They are as close as a glass of water if we would extend that to another person or accept it from them. They are as close as a warm coat, if we would share it with someone or accept it from someone. They are as close as the person sitting next to us if we would take the time to get to know them better.

God is shining a light –the light of the LORD that Isaiah talks about—to show us how near God’s kingdom really is, so that we can be on the lookout for it, in the so-called co-incidences that occur right in front of our eyes, showing us God’s Kingdom, in the eager eyes of a child, in the pleading hands of people who are alone at the holidays, in the beauty of this earth.

These two worlds are very close together, ours and God’s. These newspapers around the room represent our everyday world with all its suffering and celebration, colliding with our spiritual world, God’s reality, that we recognize and celebrate in our church. Today we are going to extend our prayers to include the concerns and values and focus of our world. You are invited to walk around the room and read headlines or stories or ads and pray for people and situations that you see there. You’ve got some pens that you may use. Feel free to underline names or words or phrases that you are holding in prayer or to write prayers in the margins or over the news stories expressing your prayers, your hopes, your communication with God.

What do we do when we are left behind and God’s Kingdom is coming? We’ve got a few choices.

1. Fear: When we hear of wars and rumors of wars we can panic. We can be dreading the thief coming in the night and never get any sleep. We can turn in ourselves and get so afraid of loss that we never open ourselves to another person again.

2. Denial: We can go on with business as usual and turn a blind eye to the those who need help. We can keep on with the world’s value system of building bigger and bigger weapons, using resources that could feed and educate people to kill and destroy.

But God’s light is shining on these paths and we can see that they lead nowhere. They are not God’s path.

So God is shining a light on another path. It is to help tear down that veil between heaven and earth, so that God’s reality becomes our reality, so that the peace that our loved ones already know also reigns here on earth, so that hungry bellies are no longer rumbling, so that people have access to basic needs for their health like mosquito nets and water wells, so that the food that agriculture produces is not wasted but shared and used to bring nutrition and health. When we are left behind, it is our job to make sure others aren’t left behind but that God’s reality is extended from the greatest to the least.

Jesus reminds us that none of us are left behind forever. Jesus came that we all might be claimed into God’s family and know peace and spread peace. We can bridge that divide between heaven and earth, between God’s reality and the world’s reality, between those in eternal life and those of us living this life, when we are awake and watching for those tears in the veil, those places of heaven on earth, and when we participate in bringing more of them to people who need them most.

November 24, 2013

Gospel: Luke 23:33-43
1st Reading: Jeremiah 23:1-6
2nd Reading: Colossians 1:11-20

Happy Birthday King of Kings! Today our congregation is 48 years old. And on this joyous occasion, we read the Scriptures for Christ the King Sunday, and it doesn’t leave us very joyous. Here is Christ on the cross, naked, beaten, betrayed, and dying, in the midst of criminals, being mocked and derided. It isn’t much of a Birthday celebration for our congregation, or our true King of Kings, Jesus.

Sometimes on a Birthday we take time to remember how we got to this point, events over the past year or in the life of the person that were meaningful and important. The readings today cover Jesus’ actions over the course of human existence and show a trajectory of true kingly behavior leading to this cross, another kind of throne lifting him up for him to complete his kingly work of saving the people and putting our needs before himself. The readings give us a chance to review where we’ve been so far.

The readings paint a picture of Jesus there at creation, the word bringing everything into being, holding all things together, heading it up. Something happens between then and the reading from Jeremiah, where kings and leaders, who are supposed to be shepherds have scattered the flock and driven them away. These rulers have been destructive, greedy, selfish, and neglectful. But God has a plan to bring everything back into balance, to gather the remnant and make sure that the flock flourishes under God’s care. A good king is like a good shepherd, and a good shepherd will lay down his life for the flock.

Now we come to Jesus on the cross. This is not a place for a king. A king should be comfortable, protected, honored, and loved. The cry is always, “Long live the king!” Here he is not living but dying. Instead of fine clothes, he has been stripped. Instead of a crown of gold, he wears a crown of thorns. Instead of sitting on a throne, he hangs on a cross. Instead of glory and power, he is weak and powerless.

Or is he? Was it a more powerful act to stay on the cross and not use his power for his own gain, but to show power in vulnerability and remain there to save us all? Jesus had the power, the ability to act, to remove himself from the cross. But he chose not to, because he was the only good king, the King of Kings, showing all of us how to use our powers to benefit other people rather than ourselves.

So, now we come to our congregation. We are named for our King of Kings, not to be confused with him. By choosing this name, we are meant to remember who it is this church represents and whose value system we go by and whose life we follow. There have been times when leaders of this congregation have been good shepherds and times we’ve been bad ones. There are times this church has been afraid and other times it has been courageous. There are times this church has been selfish and other times selfless. We are on a journey to follow Jesus and sometimes it seems Jesus is getting through to us and sometimes we miss entirely. Yet, Jesus died to give us the example to follow and the chance to try again when we fail and the chance to give God credit when it goes well.

Despite any shortcomings we’ve had, this is a day when we can truly celebrate what Jesus has done for us and through us. This year we celebrated several wonderful baptisms, the wedding of Howard and Pat, and the lives of some wonderful members including Wilma Raymond and Larry Sparrow and Dina Black. This year I have wonderful memories of special music that you offered during the summer and when Patty’s brother came and played for us this fall. We’ve had so many people come through our doors and walk out with bags of food and smiles on their faces. Sometimes the kids can’t even wait to get to the car, but stand there eating an apple or banana. We changed out the carpet in the entryway. We began our partnership with Church of God of Prophecy and worked together on church cleanup day and got to know each other. We had such a fun time with our rummage sale with different people contributing and picking up items and working together to make it a success. We shared our joys and pains, came to one another's aid, and worked together to be a welcoming presence in our community.

It seems the story is going to end with Jesus on the cross, but one of those crucified with him see that there is going to be more to this story. Maybe he hears Jesus say, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Maybe he perceives that this forgiveness may even extend to him. He takes responsibility for his crime when he states that he deserves what he is getting. He sees that Jesus has done nothing wrong, and in fact is doing everything right. He is offering forgiveness to those who are hurting him. This man wants to be remembered by Jesus. Where others only see a devastating and tragic end, he sees a future, a beginning, an Advent. This story goes on. We know Jesus will rise. We know that we all share in the resurrection and that new life starts immediately, today, in the kind of lives we will live, in the way we will use power to benefit others, in the way we will give ourselves away for the sake of others. Although this reading is depressing and would be shocking if we hadn’t heard it a lot of times, it holds a promise of new life for everyone. Jesus says, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” In fact, paradise is the word for garden. It is as if the readings are taking us full circle from the creation of God’s perfect universe, through sin and brokenness, to God’s intervention and humankind’s efforts to destroy God, to the cross, and finally back to paradise again, where we are one with God and this beautiful world God made.

So, I’ve reviewed a little of the past year. Now, in the hope of the resurrection, I invite you to state your hopes for King of Kings in the coming year.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

November 17, 2013

Gospel: Luke 21:5-19
1st Reading: Malachi 4:1-2a
2nd Reading: 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

The first time I walked into this sanctuary, I felt right at home. I was here interviewing in the summer of 2004. The same artist who carved all this beautiful wood, also carved the wood in the sanctuary of my home congregation. Maybe it was a sign that it was meant to be, or maybe it was a co-incidence. That evening, I met the call committee and found a group of faithful people, trying to do God’s work and listen to God’s voice. Then when I was called here to be your pastor, I found the same. And I have seen God at work in you ever since.

First I saw the building. Then I saw the representatives of the congregation. Then I met each of you. Then I saw God through you.

“Some were speaking about the Temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God.” These carvings are beautiful in their own right. They create a warmth in this space. They sometimes seem to glow from within because of the kind of wood and stain used to make them. Yet, there is more to them—they call to mind our faith, remind us of the kind of God we have, and who we are in relationship to God and each other. Jesus has his arms open in invitation. He is on a cross of sorts, but he is also raising to new life. The wounds on his hands, feet and sides, aren’t just gorey marks of suffering, but they are marked with a cross—a holy sign of God’s love and presence and sacrifice. The pulpit is carved with words reminding us of who God is and who we are in relationship to God. They are words of encouragement and empowerment for us and all who enter this space, because we need that strength and hope to move forward, because we are God’s messengers and workers doing what needs to be done. The wood around the sanctuary forms a cross on either side, as well as a kind of crown for our true King of Kings, the head of us, the people, the body of Christ.

I have heard many people say how lovely they find our sanctuary, and a few who have a few issues with it, but mainly compliments. Yet, we all know that the building isn’t what it is all about. This is a tool to do God’s work. It is a gift to be used up in service to God’s people.

How can we both honor the building--make it warm and inviting, and use it up for God’s work. We want the church yard to look nice, so that it is inviting, yet, realistically there is only so much we can do. I remember once many years ago, a retired pastor visited our congregation. On his way out, he pointed out the moss growing on the curbs. I thanked him, bewildered. Who cares how much moss is growing, as long as the people are doing God’s work! That’s how I feel about it! I have prayed for that man many times since. Yet, I understand he was trying to be helpful and at the next cleanup day the moss was cleaned up. How much different I would have felt about this visitor if he had first paid us a compliment on something we got right—there must have been something—joined the church and then volunteered to clean up the moss or have it cleaned. Or how would I have felt differently if he had showed as much concern about a ministry we were involved in that could possibly help someone, rather than something so trivial as moss?

We have been having more wear and tear on the building in the past 6 years because it is getting used by the pantry and many different groups that share the space and we may find that an increasing trend. There are fingerprints on the windows, drawings on the offering envelopes, cigarette butts in the outdoor ash tray, debris tracked in on the carpet. Is this a reason for shame or despair? This is reason to give thanks! The space is being used for God’s ministry. It is part of the order of things that sooner or later even stones fall. In the past few years we’ve replaced some carpet that was worn out and stained. Patty and her family painted the social hall because the walls were scratched.

For a time those stains on the floor recieved a lot of attention. Do those marks send a message that we are disorganized, too poor to fix them, or otherwise deficient somehow? Do they represent the wear and tear and disinterest and lack of concern of “those people” using our building? Or do they reflect the natural order of things that this carpet covered this floor for over 12 years, saw how many thousands of feet come through, supported the feet of members and nonmembers, those rejoicing and those grieving, the well-fed and the hungry? That carpet did the work of God without a grumble or a distinction between people. Why then do we try to distinguish—who did this? Children of God did this and it is a beautiful thing that the carpet was used to give glory to God and help people who needed it most.

The marks on the walls were for some a critique of the pantry and tables scraping the walls. But for others they were marks of how many fewer people were going hungry in our neighborhood. They were marks of how many volunteers were coming through these doors, more satisfied, more connected, more hopeful. They were a marking of time reminding us of how long it had been since Tova was married—the reason those walls were painted the last time. They had seen the happiness at that wedding and others. They had seen the tears flowing at many funerals. They had seen laughter. They had been covered for Bible School in fish decorations making the whole social hall into an ocean scene and transforming the entire feel of the room, even inspiring some to say we should paint a mural on our colorless walls. For ten years that paint served God and it slowly wore out.

Who was to blame? Who scratched those walls? Was it those people who don’t care about our walls? Those marks were inevitable—paint scratches. They were beautiful because they were earned, like the wrinkles on all our faces. They were the marks of servanthood. I would imagine that in 10-12 more years you’re going to need to replace the carpet and paint the social hall again, and if it is sooner than that, it won’t be because the space was abused, but because it was used for the glory of God and should be something to celebrate.

Jesus hung there on the cross, broken and bleeding. This beautiful man’s body had been destroyed. Whose fault was it? Was it those Romans or those Jews? Or had he simply given himself away for ministry? Was it in any way a beautiful thing, what he gave up for us? Jesus’ ministry wasn’t about his body, or his survival. It was about the Kingdom of God and our relationship to God. In order to solidify that relationship, God gave the Son, not to be kept pristine and pretty, but to be used up for the sake of the poor, the needy, the lost, the misguided—for us.

When we encounter messes and disasters, earthquakes, famines, ruined temples and churches burnt to ashes, famines and plagues, and even personal attacks, how will we react? Do we react by blaming? Do we feel despair? Do we get distracted and led away by charismatic leaders or latest fad in self help?

Jesus says that these are actually occasions for hope. He reminds us of God’s bigger plan. He reminds us of the natural order of things—that buildings and institutions and kingdoms rise and fall. But that God is in charge and that will never change. Some of these things must fall that are not serving God, but have become distractions and excuses to take advantage of the poor. When they fall that is a good thing. Aren’t there days when it might be good news if the US legislature was just leveled and we had to start all over again?
Someday, this church won’t be here anymore. It will be a heap of rubble or maybe something else will be built in its place. Is this cause for alarm, or hope? Jesus says to remain hopeful. God will still be the one in charge. Someday all our bodies will wear out and we will die. Is this cause for alarm? Or is a chance to rejoice and give thanks to God, as Jesus says? Whether we live or die we are the Lord’s. Someday this country will be no more. Is this an occasion for despair? Or will we see the renewal that Jesus has in mind for all of creation? Do we really believe in resurrection or do we get stuck staring at the heap of stones and beautiful jewels?

Our church building will continue to need maintenance. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have replaced the carpet or painted the social hall. It was time. But next time, let’s celebrate the work that God is doing in this place, that God is wearing this place out with love and foot traffic and relationship. Let us do our work quietly. Let us stop admiring the wood and stone and paint that won’t last, and start admiring God who brings new life and hope when it doesn’t look or feel pretty.

November 10, 2013

Gospel: Luke 20:27-38 1st Reading: Job 19:23-27a
2nd Reading: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17

We’re starting to give some thought to Thanksgiving. We were planning to do it on our own, but now Nick’s Oma is planning to be there from Northern California and she and Sterling haven’t met, yet. So now we are going to Nick’s sister’s house.

Thanksgiving dinners at our house growing up meant grandmas and grandpas, aunts, uncles and cousins. It meant the entire day before devoted to making pies, tearing apart bread for stuffing, thawing the turkey, washing table cloths and the good china, and making sure there would be enough chairs. I remember baking pies with my mom with the pumpkin from our Halloween Jack-o-lanterns and saving aside the giblets from the turkey for the stuffing or gravy. I remember our homemade centerpieces—usually something we had put together at school. I remember being both thrifty and lavish at the same time.

The past 17 Thanksgivings we've made our own traditions. When we first moved away to go to seminary, we spent those holidays on our own. We tried our parent's traditions. I remember one year making a whole turkey. It was a little overwhelming for two people. That year I even boiled the bones to make broth. We ate leftovers and froze them and ate them for months. Other years we joined with friends in their Thanksgivings. One year we had friends over who were vegan. We made a wonderful vegan pumpkin cheesecake that we've actually made a couple more times. I remember one year bringing one of our favorite sides—stir fried peppered snake beans to a friends to contribute to the dinner. And since we've been back in Oregon, we've planned Thanksgivings with our families, but every single year for 9 years one of us has been sick on Thanksgiving.

This year it is going to be different! This year I am determined to wash my hands and stay away from sickies and not work myself sick so that we can go see Oma on Thanksgiving. Still, it won't be all the same family traditions. They will certainly do their Thanksgiving. But we're vegetarian, and we have new traditions that we have created. Maybe we’ll bring pumpkin vegan cheesecake or stir fried peppered snake beans. The reading from 2 Thessalonians says to “hold fast to the traditions that you were taught.” This makes me a little bit nervous, because we've departed from the traditions of our families and made our own traditions in our family. And I get nervous because sometimes traditions can be distractions from the will of God for churches instead of helping to bring us closer to God. The truth is, traditions can be both good and bad.

The best of our traditions give us an anchor to the past and all that was good about it. They give us a memory of our history and a link to the ones we've loved both living and living in the next life. They remind us of why we're here. And they give us something to do when we otherwise might not know what to do. When we were living away from family and friends, we tried those traditions and sometimes they just made us more homesick, but other times they connected us in meaningful ways. It was a tradition to call home on any holiday—a chance to reconnect and say, “I love you.” I think of our traditions around death—sending sympathy cards, bringing food, praying, remembering. Those traditions bring so much comfort and closure, help the living to find peace, find meaning in life and death and suffering and grief, bring people together so they know they aren't alone, and eventually move forward with hope.

The worst of our traditions has us stuck in the past, rigid, thinking this is the only way to do things, feeling lost if the ritual isn't quite done the way we expected, and disconnected or angry at people who have different traditions. In the Gospel for today, the Sadducees ask about a tradition, marriage. They don't really care about the answer to their question—they are just trying to pull a gotcha on Jesus. It doesn't fit with these traditions that Paul is saying are so important. Of course Jesus isn't shaken. He points out that marriage is a tradition that is for this age. It is to help order society, to protect women and children, and so baby daddies can make sure those are their genes they are passing on. Jesus is saying that that our traditions serve a purpose and that is to make sure all are cared for. It's a kind of buddy system to make sure we are all safe. It is a system to make sure that all have life abundant. That's what resurrection is for, too. It is to ensure life abundant for all. In the age to come, we'll all be living in resurrection, so we don't need this imperfect institution of marriage to make sure that all have life, because we all will by definition.

What is this resurrection life that Jesus is talking about? Do we have to die to experience resurrection? No. We can experience it to a certain extent in marriage. When marriage really works like it is supposed to, it honors and protects all involved. And we are invited to live resurrection more fully in all our relationships. Jesus has ushered in this new age where we are all related to each other—where we are all brothers and sisters, as responsible for one another's welfare as if they were our own families. So does this mean we just throw away our old traditions? No. They still can help guide us. They can help us not spread ourselves too thin. They help dictate who we relate to, because we can't relate to everyone. We start with those in our immediate vicinity. “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

I don’t know if it is a tradition yet that we gather food for Backpack Buddies at Milwaukie Elementary. But it is certainly a tradition to feed and care for the hungry. They are our neighbor kids. Their well-being closely relates to our well being and the well being of our communities. But since Jesus is ushering in a new era where everyone is our neighbor, we also write to our legislators about continuing to fund food stamps and our church sends offerings for hungry children around the world and we carry a granola bar and some clean socks to hand to people begging at the corner when we're about to get on the freeway. Resurrection life can be lived in so many ways. There is no one right way to do it. Different situations call for different ways of living it. It is the resurrection life that is the tradition that we are to hold fast to, rather than getting caught up in the specifics. Some might give to Backpack buddies, some might sing in the choir, some might go vegetarian, some might give up their car. There are just so many options in the tradition of living the resurrection life that Jesus offers us.

Resurrection life gives us the benefit of the past and all that we’ve learned and been raised with without getting stuck to it, always looking back to better days. And Resurrection life keeps us hopeful about the future without getting into all the specifics of what it will be like in this life or the next, which we just can’t know and don’t need to. Resurrection life is living right now with what we’ve got, honoring our traditions to be self-sacrificing, generous, grateful, loving, unafraid, and alive.

Jesus gives us resurrection life right now, not just after we die. It is an opportunity for the living. Jesus gives us all this life in the present moment so that all our Thanksgivings can be appreciation of all that God has given us. And even when we do get stuck in the past or future, or forget to thank God, or get dragged down in the minutiae of the place settings or recipes or in an argument over the football game or who is coming and who isn’t, still God loves us and sends the Son to show us that love and to welcome us to God’s Thanksgiving dinner so that we can welcome others and make sure that all are fed and have access to resurrection life today.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

November 3, 2013

Gospel: Luke 6:20-31
1st Reading: Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
2nd Reading: Ephesians 1:11-23

When I read the Beatitudes this week, I was reminded of the bumper sticker, “Wag more, bark less.” To me another way of saying that is, “more blessing, less woe.” I think we’re probably all more comfortable with Matthew’s version of the Beatitudes. He leaves out the woes for one thing. Why does Luke have to be so negative? And Matthew spiritualizes the blessings so that those of us who are actually wealthy have a way of accessing God’s blessing. Matthew quotes Jesus as saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” That way you don’t actually have to be materially poor to know God’s blessing. And he says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” That way we don’t really have to be hungry to feel included in this blessing.

It is easy to feel guilty or excluded when we read Luke’s version and stomp off and pout, but I think it is worth sticking with and looking into, because Jesus really rejects our priorities and shows us a whole new way of looking at the world that has plenty of blessing for everyone. The first thing to remember is that this is from Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain. Matthew has a sermon on the Mount to link Jesus with Moses, who got the Ten Commandments from the mountain. Luke’s equivalent is the Sermon on the Plain. This location says something about leveling the playing field and making everyone equal. The Sermon on the Plain, like the Sermon on the Mount, is Jesus’ inaugural address. This is the place where he lays out his agenda, which also God’s agenda. He’s giving a heads-up about the ministry he is about to undertake. It isn’t going to have the same values that most people do. It is going to turn the order of things on its head. It is going to be unexpected and shocking.

Next, we should note that Jesus is addressing his Disciples. He really wants them to know what they are getting into. And he’s affirming all that they will face. They have already given everything up—they are poor. They shouldn’t see that as a sign of woe, but know that God favors them and is looking out for them. They will weep—especially they will weep for Jesus when he is hung on the tree and they will wonder if all they do meant anything at all. Jesus is telling them not to despair. They will be hungry. That isn’t a sign to give up. God will not forget them. They will definitely be hated, excluded, reviled, and defamed. And not only these Disciples, but all these things have happened to the community that Luke is writing to. They have gone through every hardship for the sake of the Gospel. They must be feeling utterly defeated and maybe even ready to give up. But then Luke shares this speech of Jesus’ with them in the hopes that it will lift their spirits and help them continue to do God’s work.

We all understand these blessings, to a certain level. On a page of “Wag more, bark less” T-shirts was another with an excited dog that said, “Happy is the new rich.” We know it is better to be happy than rich and that some poor people we know are some of the most generous people we know.

When I think of times that I have been in mourning, the whole world looks different. I don’t think it is the world that has changed, but me. You know when you are mourning, and you wonder how people can just go on with life as if nothing has changed, when everything has changed for you. It is the one time you look around and wonder who else is mourning a loss. It is hard to believe the idle chatter on the radio, in the grocery store, at work, and among your friends. It reminds us of what is important. It helps us tune in to other’s grief. It makes us see the world in a different way. That is the blessing of weeping. It opens our eyes. It helps us to be more compassionate. We are assured of God’s blessing and presence when we are weeping.

So now we come to the hard part—the woes. Even if I am not rich, full, laughing, or respected and loved, I want to be. Those are the goals. That is what success looks like. Much of the time, I am all those things. Jesus reminds us that those states are not the point of life. First, those states are temporary. Circumstances change. When we come to rely on our wealth, our full cupboards and bellies, the praise that others heap on us, we will find they don’t hold up. Sooner or later we will be hungry, we will be sad, we won’t please someone, and then where will we be? Jesus reminds us that to be rich is a choice. The poor can’t just decide to be rich. But the rich do have a choice and could give it away to help other people and live simply. The poor have no choice but to rely on God. The rich can pretend to be self-sufficient. The woes of the rich, the full, the laughing, and those that are spoken well of, is the pitfalls and temptations that come with them. We can so easily get used to those states, think that we deserve these states, put all our efforts into maintaining these states, and forget God’s priorities which are absolutely the opposite of ours.

Think of all Jesus represented. He could have come as rich and powerful and always laughing and everyone wanting to be with him. He wasn’t any of those things. People like that are a dime a dozen He came because of people like that who have no compassion for others, and whose priorities don’t help the world become a better place for everyone. He came to spread blessing far and wide and to reduce the woes that people face in hunger and inequality and suffering. And Jesus’ priorities and way of doing things is further explained in the rest of the reading. He says to love your enemies—love needs to beyond our own social circle, beyond those who do good to us. God has done this for us, continually. We made ourselves into God’s enemies when we hurt others and neglect those who need our help, yet God comes to us and forgives us and gives us new life and another chance to serve and to be in God’s loving family. Of course, Jesus was struck on the cheek. He turned the other cheek—not as a doormat asking to be hit again, but that he wouldn’t back down, and he wouldn’t resort to violence, either. He gave his life for those who rejected him and raised us all to new life. Now we live with new priorities of sharing that new life and blessing with others.

How do we pass on the blessing we’ve received rather than increase people’s woes? Each Sunday when we leave church, we receive a blessing, “The LORD bless you and keep you.” What does it mean for us to share blessing with others. It means sharing material wealth. It means sharing time in building relationships. It means giving permission and approval for others to find their own path. It means showing appreciation for what others do and who others are in our lives. It means having compassion for others and weeping with them. It means making sacrifices so that others can know what it is like to laugh and be full and be consoled. It means doing unto others, not as they have done to us, but as we would have them do to us. It means barking less, complaining less, feeling sorry for ourselves less, and being violent less. It means wagging more, giving approval more, loving more, and sharing more.

October 27, 2013

Gospel: John 8:31-36
1st Reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm 46
2nd Reading: Romans 3:19-28

What should we have for dinner? That’s the question that faces us every night. Sometimes we’re smart enough to plan out a menu ahead of time. Sometimes we’re just trying to get ourselves fed as quickly as possible from the ingredients we have on hand. Each of us considers the question from our own perspective. We look at the available ingredients and time as well as what our cravings are saying to us. Everyone shares their point of view and enters into a dialogue. We make the best decision we can for all of us, and then we get to cooking and eventually eating. Then we start again the next day.

The Reformation started with a question, as well: What is God’s will or purpose for the church? Maybe this question seems far removed from what to have for dinner, but we’re asking how to nourish our bodies and how to nourish the body of Christ. It kind of reminds me of the scene in “Oliver” when he asks for more. There were those who found the question threatening. The Roman Catholic Church had been creating the menu for years and forcing people to cook and eat what they wanted people to swallow. But there were many more who were already asking the question behind the scene. They were hungry for a new way of doing church. Many people were already considering the question from many perspectives, considering the resources, looking at all the options. Many people shared their point of view and entered into the dialogue. People started trying their own recipes. Martin Luther ended up writing his own recipe book. It included many old favorites, but with new twists, and especially empowering people to think and cook for themselves and decide what worked for their families. Out of the Reformation came many different meal options, new ingredients and preparation techniques. Of course, we aren’t still using all the same recipes that came from that time. The Reformation is ongoing. We must ask the question in every generation, in every context: What is God’s will or purpose for the church? We ask each other. We ask God. We all decide together what makes sense. We worship with the tools and knowledge skills and faith that we have available in this time and place. Then we do it all again the next week.

We are still asking that question about God’s purpose for our church. You’ve asked it before in the congregations you came from. You asked it before in this congregation over 10 years ago. You ate that dish and were nourished by it for many years. Now, new ingredients are available, new tastes, new cooks. So we sit with the question again: What is God’s purpose for our church, our congregation? We listen to our church and our community again. We listen to God again. Maybe God will share with us the same recipe that we’ve been using all this time. And maybe God will say something that we haven’t heard in quite the same way before. Maybe new ears hear something a little bit different. Maybe we have new language to understand and express God’s purpose for our community, but we’ll never know unless we stop and listen to God once more and listen to each other once more, which is what we’ve been doing in our Mission Statement Process in the past month. You are invited to participate in the Mission Statement process. Last month a group of us met on a Saturday and prayed and read the Bible and had a discussion about God’s purpose for our community. Our Mission Statement team has been praying and studying those responses to come up with a draft statement. If you didn’t get a chance to come to the retreat, you are invited to take home a Bible Study page to complete and return to the church to be considered as we shape our drafts.

We weren’t anticipating asking any questions about the space downstairs, until the preschool moved on. Now we have an opening and a question. How can we use the space downstairs to serve God? The council was considering placing an add, but we realized that this gives us a chance to listen to the Holy Spirit. It is a chance to ask the question, pray, consider the resources, have a dialogue, and decide together. So far, people have had such great ideas. It could be a day-use retreat space for groups to meet. It could be used for tutoring. It could be used for a parent-toddler play group. It could be used for a musical group to practice. You are invited to pray, to read scripture, to discuss, and to make a suggestion about how the space could be used to do God’s work in the community. The Holy Spirit speaks to every one of us and when we listen to each other we have a much richer and tastier menu and are nourished more fully.

God keeps on asking the question about how to show us love and help us to love each other. At times we haven’t been so wild about that question. We’ve been too distracted by our fears and our greed and our other priorities. But God keeps posing that question in every age. God doesn’t just give us questions, but gives us resources to help us find our way. God gives us our relationship with God as an example of what love can look like. God gives us prophets to help point us in a direction that is helpful. God gives us all the people we meet to help challenge us and help us grow. God gives us this amazing world we live in as a gift that we are stewards of. And God gives us endless chances to try again when we fail and to improve on our recipes.

This is partly what we mean when we talk about being simultaneously saint and sinner, slave and free, like the scriptures point out this morning. Maybe saint and sinner language is too loaded for us, these days. We either get too humble—“I’m no saint,” or defensive, “What do you mean, I’m continually sinning!? I do the best I can.” But the slave and free way of saying it may be more helpful. We can see how at any moment we are bound, in a kind of slavery. We are bound by our life circumstances. We are unable to see the options before us. We get stuck in our patterns. We get comfortable with where we are. And we make lots and lots of choices that distance us from others and hurt us an others. We are slaves to sin.

And yet that isn’t the end of the story. Jesus frees us, continually, with the gift of God’s love. Jesus reminds us that fear and guilt are not the end of the story. We don’t have to spend our days beating ourselves up for all the mistakes we’ve made. We are beloved children of God. We are adopted into God’s family. The Son has welcomed us. We can move from that place of slavery and being stuck. We can approach God for help. We can ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. We can expect another day of God’s grace to ask the questions. We can come together again in community with all these other imperfect beloved children of God and decide together. Our cookbook of life is open. We are free to use the amazing gifts and ingredients that God gives us to make something new and beautiful and delicious. We are free to ask the question, “What’s for dinner?” and listen to all the possible responses in the body of Christ. We are free to be nourished and fed at God’s table. And we are freed to take God’s love out to all we meet so that someday everyone will be fed in body and spirit. Someday all will be freed in body and spirit.

October 20, 2013

Gospel: Luke 18:1-8
1st Reading: Genesis 32:22-31
2nd Reading: 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

Wrestling with God: What comes to mind is some of these cute videos you can watch online on lion cubs wrestling with their great big lion daddies. Wrestling for lions and humans is an important part of development. It builds trust. It builds physical skill. It teaches about winning and losing. It teaches about letting go. Those tiny lion cubs seem to have no idea how small they are. They are just curious and feisty and in play they practice important skills that will help them hunt and attack prey someday. And those great big lions have so much patience. All it would take would be one swipe of the paw or one crunch of those powerful jaws and it would all be over. Yet they seem to know that this is part of cub development, and they show patience. They give just enough challenge to keep the little cubs learning and coming back for more.

Jacob was quite the wrestler. He had wrestled with his twin brother in his mother’s womb. Remember he was clenching the foot of his brother, Esau, when he was born. He wrestled with his parents for the role of the favorite child. After he took his brother’s birthright, he wrestled with guilt and he wrestled with being estranged from the brother he had been so close to. And now he is about to meet with his brother for the first time in over 20 years, for the first time since he cheated him. Some say he is a bit of a wimp—he sends the women and children first, ahead of himself across the river to where his brother will be meeting him. Maybe he just needed some time to think.

That night, the scripture says, he wrestles. He wrestles with himself. He is thinking of all the things his brother might say to him about him cheating him and ruining his life and so forth. And his brother would be justified saying all that. His brother would have the right to strike him or worse. You can imagine him going through every possible scenario, preparing himself for each rebuke from his brother.

While he is wrestling in hi s mind, a man comes and wrestles with him there by the river. Is it a man? Is it God? Is it an angel? Who is this nameless wrestler? By the end of the story, Jacob is convinced it is God. He says, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life is preserved.” It reminds me of the lion cub and the big father lion. Certainly, God could have prevailed and pummeled Jacob instantly. But that’s not who God our Father is. Wrestling teaches us. It is practice. Wrestling teaches perseverance, it teaches about playing fair (which is a lesson Jacob needs to learn), it teaches about strength, it teaches about tenderness, it teaches about forgiveness, and it teaches about blessing.

Do we ever wrestle with God? Are we afraid to approach God, waste God’s time, or pick a fight? Yet God is so approachable and accessible. Why not? That’s what dads are for. What kind of things do you wrestle with God about? Who usually wins? How do you know when you’ve seen God face to face?

The second reading today mentions wrestling with God in scripture. Reading from the Bible can become a good habit to get into. But don’t just read it. Ask the burning questions that come to mind. Use scripture to wrestle with God. It is God’s word, after all. Order a devotional book that can help you read it, or find some questions online that help you delve deeper into the text, to understand what the Bible is really saying. You don’t need a master’s degree at a religious institution to read the Bible and get something from it and to be challenged by it. But it also takes practice.

Like the cubs wrestling with the big lion, you have to start somewhere, and the learning grows with practice. Think of those little cubs. At first they are so weak and small. They might notice the flick of the tail and pounce. As they progress, they start batting at the big lion. Soon they are climbing up and knawing on dad’s ear. Eventually they are tumbling around in the dirt with him. It takes practice and patience. As we read the Bible, we might start by sitting back and watching. But with practice and bravery, we begin to approach and delve deeper. We let those questions surface. What is this Bible passage saying about God? What is it saying about me and my life? Is that really the kind of God I believe in? What exactly do I believe about God and why? How is that going to affect my life?

God can take it. God can take all our questions. God can take our critical thinking. God can take our challenges. God knows patience and tenderness. God wrestles with us and stays in the game and even blesses us through this wrestling.

In the Gospel reading for today, prayer is considered a kind of wrestling with God and with ourselves. Prayer takes practice. You might try a little prayer and it feels awkward. It is all about baby steps. Keep coming back to God and trying again. Try written prayers. Try sitting in silence. Try praying as you work. Try writing poetry as a prayer. Try gardening as prayer. Try golfing as prayer. Soon, you’ll be just like this loud widow, wearing God out.

God is like the lion, powerful, protective, observant, and a great teacher. When we go to wrestle with God, we are really working through our own stuff. Usually, we are trying to figure something out—what we should do, what is wrong and right, how to make amends for our wrongs, how to relate to other people and things like that.

Since we survive and grow by wrestling with God, through prayer or through reading the Bible, we soon learn what we need to know to take on the powers in our world. The cubs don’t wrestle with dad forever. They grow up and hunt their own food and raise their own families. Their wrestling progresses until it is a well-refined skill that they use everyday.

This widow doesn’t just sit home and practice wrestling. She is going public with it. She’s going to make sure everyone knows how she has been wronged. She learns the place to go to get justice. It isn’t just that she pleads and complains. It is that she goes to the powers that be, tells her truth and her story, and demands justice. She wrestles with those powers and she doesn’t give up until she gets what is right. Our faith encourages us to wrestle with God, wrestle in prayer, wrestle with scripture, wrestle within ourselves, and then to take action and wrestle with the unjust laws and unjust powers in our world. And not just to nip at the tail, but to continue wrestling, to climb that injustice and take it by the ear, to knock it to the ground so that the prayers of those who are wronged by injustice—the poor, the imprisoned, the sick, and the neglected, get the justice they have been praying for.

God pleaded with us and wrestled with us over the years. God came to us in scriptures, through angels, through the very world we live in. And then God sent us a wrestling partner just like us. Jesus wrestled with the religious authorities, with the Roman Oppressors, with people who were self-righteous. And Jesus wrestled with us to show us how to play fair, how to be tender and compassionate, and when to stand up for what is right. Jesus, like the father lion, could have crushed his opponents, but instead he let them, let us win and it put him in the grave. He showed that he was willing to die for justice, to win our hearts, and to show us that winning isn’t everything. And he rose to new life to show us that even when we lose, God has ultimate authority and power, that there is a bigger story that we are part of.

Do you know what happens next after Jacob crosses to meet the brother he wronged so many years ago? He confesses to his brother the wrong that he committed. Much to his surprise he finds a brother full of love and tenderness for him, who embraces him wholeheartedly and welcomes him and his family as if there had never been a rift. That is what God does for us. We come limping across the river after a lifetime of hurts and of wrongs and we find Jesus our brother with open arms and an open heart ready to embrace us.

October 13, 2013

Gospel: Luke 17:11-19
1st Reading: 2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c
2nd Reading: 2 Timothy 2:8-15

Today, I’m going to give away the ending at the beginning. We can do everything God asks us to do, and still not get it, still not be transformed, still not be made new. And maybe that’s why we, as Lutherans, know that we will not be saved by our works, by our deeds. It is God’s grace alone that can save. The question is this: Will we be able to accept God’s grace and give thanks to God it?

The lepers did everything they were supposed to do. Society dictated that everywhere they went, they cried out, “Unclean.” Society dictated that, as beggars, they should say, “Have mercy,” just like we say many Sundays at church. Jesus told them to go show themselves to the priests, and they did and were made clean. They did everything they were supposed to do. But don’t you get the feeling that most of the lepers missed something?

Naaman, commander of the army of the King of Aram, did everything he was supposed to do. He was an important guy. He had a right to expect a lot of hocus pocus and hand waving and a big deal to be made over him. He expected to have to wash himself in the Parphar River or at least the Abana. He was ok with that. He was perfectly willing. But God was offering him something more than healing that was just skin deep. He was doing more than one could reasonably expect, but was still missing something.

When Paul was doing what the religious authorities said was right, what was right in his culture—spying on people, having them dragged from their homes for questioning, torturing them, he enjoyed the luxuries of life. He was well-respected, rich, and secure. But even though he was doing what he thought was right, he was still missing something. In fact he was missing everything.

God asks more of us, than just to do what our religion or government or conscience, tells us. God wants a changed life for us. God wants a grateful heart for us. God wants us to humble ourselves. God wants changed priorities for us.

Naaman wanted his skin to be healed and that was it. He wanted the rest of his life to be the same. He did not want to be inconvenienced. But God wanted more for Naaman. Naaman had everything he could ever want, or so he thought, but something was still wrong. He had a skin condition and some other disconnect in his life—maybe it was pride, maybe it was entitlement. God wanted to heal both the leprosy and that condition of the heart. God wouldn’t be able to heal both conditions by doing things Naaman’s way. God needed to wake Naaman up. So God brought Naaman a message through the most unlikely person—a slave of his wife’s. Naaman showed a lot of willingness, even listening to his wife. Most important men would have immediately dismissed this possibility—that the direction toward a cure could come from this slave girl. He had to humble himself to go to his king and tell him that he was listening to a little girl slave and ask for the king to write a letter to the king of Israel. He, then traveled to Israel, to see about the cure, which could not have been easy. He must have been embarrassed and crushed when the King told him there was nothing he could do to help him. And then to have the prophet Elisha summon him and go all the way to his house and not have the prophet even meet with him, but instead send him on another errand. He’s just had it, so he throws a fit and starts heading home. But God humbles him again, through his servant who takes a risk to correct his behavior. His slave reasons with him, gets him to do what he needs to do to be healed in both body and spirit.

I think it was the journey that healed him, more than the final step of washing in the Jordan River. Yes, when he emerged, he had brand new skin, but the journey taught him to pay attention to people that don’t matter to others, like the slave girl, the prophet’s messenger, and his servant. It taught him not to take his privilege for granted—he had to jump through many hoops on his journey to healing. It taught him to persevere. He was the kind of person that riches and women just fell at his feet. He wasn’t used to working for anything. But this was something he truly wanted and needed, and he eventually saw it through, finished what he started with wonderful results. Don’t you think he went home a changed man? We don’t know what happened to him, except what we read in the rest of that chapter, that he would worship God alone from that time on. Did he release his Israelite slaves? Did he stop going on conquests? We don’t know much, except that he was thankful to God. We don’t know how his gratefulness and new awareness played out in his life.

The lepers were all cleansed that day by Jesus. So why was one affected differently than the other 9? Was it something in his upbringing? Was it something to do with his life experience? Maybe it was an accident that he suddenly turned and saw Jesus and decided to thank him. The other 9 did exactly as Jesus told them, but they didn’t express their gratitude to Jesus, if they had any. Maybe it was that this man was a Samaritan. He was used to be on the sidelines. He knew he had no right to healing. Whereas others might have felt entitled, he knew he had done nothing to deserve this precious gift. The Samaritan couldn’t go to the temple to see the priest. He wasn’t welcome there because of his race and religion. Where else did he have to turn? So he gave thanks to Jesus, right there. His life was completely changed. It wasn’t just skin-deep. He shared his gratitude right there in public. His heart was open. He saw what others couldn’t see, God’s actions right there for healing of bodies and hearts. We don’t know the rest of his story and how his life might have been changed more than that of his fellow lepers. Did he give thanks daily for the rest of his life? Did his encounter with Jesus affect the way he interacted with people on a daily basis? Did he appreciate what he had more? Did he share what he had more? We don’t know how his gratefulness played out in his daily life after that.

Paul’s life was changed when he met Jesus on the road to Damascus. He was chief of sinners, yet Jesus came to him and loved him, healed him, claimed him, and put him to work. And even though before that he had every comfort and freedom, he was much more comfortable and free when he was locked up for sharing the good news of God’s love and grace. He was right in his heart. He was grateful for all that God had done for him.

What all do we take for granted in our lives? Do we want the healing that Jesus offers without transformation, or do we want a changed life? Do we want to just do what we’re supposed to do, or can we take it to another level? Can we live a life of gratefulness, returning to Jesus again and again in appreciation?

Can you build gratefulness? Can you manufacture the transformation of a life? That’s what we’re talking about when we use the word “discipleship.” When we are a follower or disciple of Jesus, we are hanging on his every word, we are thankful for every gift that he gives us. Even if we aren’t naturally grateful, we can cultivate it. Many of you made your children sit down and write thank you notes. How about sitting down and writing one thank you note every day. You can even program your smart phone or e-calendar to remind you. How about praying for all the things you are thankful for each morning and evening? You can train your heart to give thanks. And believe me, it will change the way you see the world. It may not give you the skin of a baby, but it will give you the heart of a child, full of wonder, aware of the gift of this life, and ready to share it willingly with others.

I think we are really all 10 lepers. 9 times out of 10 times we forget to give thanks. But occasionally our eyes are opened to see God’s action in our lives and we turn in gratefulness to God for all God has done for us.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

October 6, 2013

Gospel: Luke 17:5-10
1st Reading: Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
2nd Reading: 2 Timothy 1:1-14

Do we have any mulberry trees amongst us today—anyone who likes to stay put and isn’t planning on budging any time soon? Every time, I’ve read this in the past, I’ve just dismissed it because it is so ridiculous that anyone would be talking to a mulberry tree. But today, I decided this is about people and how we get stuck and cannot move.

We get stuck. We get paralyzed. We can’t move. We can’t motivate ourselves to action. To get us to move would be a miracle, plain and simple. We get paralyzed by comfort. What we have is just too good to give up or sacrifice. Even if it is chaos, we say, “It is my chaos, at least!” It is a situation I’m comfortable and that I know inside and out. If I was to give up my chaos, I could then take on another that I wouldn’t know as well and wouldn’t be able to navigate, so here I sit!

We get paralyzed by fear. We are afraid of the unknown. We look from our place of rootedness, and look out to the sea—it may be beautiful, but it is dangerous. We are afraid to risk being uprooted and taken what we know to go where we don’t know.

In the reading from Habakkuk, the writer is paralyzed by fear. He is surrounded by enemies. He calls out to God but cannot hear an answer.
In the reading from 2 Timothy, Timothy is paralyzed by fear—did you hear the writer refer to cowardice?

In the Gospel, the apostles are paralyzed. They are making excuses that they don’t have enough of what they need to move forward and follow where Jesus is calling them.

We get paralyzed, too, sometimes. Do you ever feel yourself in that same rut, going through the motions, doing the same things day after day, out of habit? We do it out of comfort. We do it out of habit. We do it out of fear of the unknown, and fear of our own shortcomings.

The problem is, we are not mulberry bushes. We are called to action. We are called to act on our faith—to step out and risk. We are called to follow Jesus. We are called to be transformed by our faith and to help transform our world because of our faith. We aren’t satisfied being stuck in one place and we look to God for direction and meaning and motivation to get unstuck and get a move-on to a journey that will bring us life and love and help us make a difference in our communities. Our fear and comfort may hold us back, but something bigger is calling us to more and we’re actually considering allowing ourselves to be uprooted and get a move on.

What is it that we need to help us get up and get moving, get motivated to live the life to which we are called? We need inspiration. The word “inspiration” has the word “spirit” in it. Spirit also means breath. Some even say the name for God from the Bible, “Yahweh” sounds like a breath. We need the indwelling of the spirit. We need God’s breath to come to us and get us going. Think of the story of the first human from the Bible. God created a human from the dust of the earth. The human was lifeless until God breathed life into him. Only after receiving breath from God, was he alive and moving and making decisions (although not always good ones), and naming animals and so forth.

What do we find inspiring? For Timothy, he is reminded of the example of his mother and grandmother. Think for yourselves some of the people who have gone before you in the faith. Think of how their faith sustained you. Consider the lives they led and how they modeled faith. Think of how they really lived life, all they taught you, the risks they took for their faith, and how it got them through times of fear and cowardice and comfort.

In my life, it was my grandparents that I look up to in the faith. They weren’t perfect, but they cared about other people, were generous, and passed down their faith that got them through the depression and many trials of life. And although they were Missouri Synod Lutherans, they still supported me, and were not closed-minded about who God could work through.

In this congregation, shout out some names that come to mind for you. Tell me a little story about that person and how they modeled faith.

For further inspiration, we go to God’s creation. We look at a tiny mustard seed and can look to that. If you have that much faith, that is enough. No more excuses! Look to the animals. They don’t despair about where they go or what they do. They just do it. They don’t worry about the future—lay awake at night. They just are. We certainly can be inspired by our pets and are every day. They teach us about healthy rhythms of life, rest and play and joy and delight. We can be inspired watching them. They are God’s creatures, claimed and loved, just as we are. Tell me about your pet and how your pet inspires you.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

September 29, 2013

1st Reading: Amos 6:1a, 4-7
2nd Reading: 1 Timothy 6:6-19

My first year of college, I auditioned for and got a part in our college play. I was a “townsperson” in “A Christmas Carol,” the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, or Scrooge McDuck, depending on your favorite version. It was a good way to make friends and meet new people. I have a lot of good memories of that time.

Every good story borrows from others. We can all see how “A Christmas Carol” comes from this Biblical story of the rich man and Lazarus. Neither of these stories are meant to be factually true—they are stories to teach us how to relate to one another.

Sadly, our money can distort our view—keep us from seeing those around us. Scrooge couldn’t see the suffering of Bob Cratchit or any of the other people he had been hurting. The rich man couldn’t see Lazarus right out in front of his gate. Prosperity can get in the way of us seeing the people around us. We avoid what is distasteful so our enjoyment doesn’t get disturbed, so we don’t see the suffering of those around us. Money and possessions and comfort draw the curtains on our awareness, create a chasm between us and other people. If we are well-off, we might not think we need other people and may push them away as we pursue our own comfort.

So what is going to open our eyes? What is going to bridge the chasm? What is going to make us aware of those around us who don’t enjoy the benefits we do?
A scripture like this one can do the trick. A story like A Christmas Carol, can help us to do that. In these two stories we look at our own lives through the eyes of the characters. It puts a safe distance between us and the topic so we can really look at it clearly. We might not be as greedy and blind and as the rich man in this story, yet we all have been tempted by money and possessions. We might not be as grouchy and lonely as Scrooge, but we have been those things to a certain extent. His story casts light on our own story. These two stories get us thinking—When have I been greedy? When have I pursued money at the cost of relationships? When have I ignored someone suffering on my doorstep? What do I pursue in my life—what am I eager for? What do I most want out of life? When we ask those questions honestly, we’re going to start seeing what we might not have seen before. We will start to examine our own life. We will start to see people we might not have seen before.

I love the journey that Scrooge takes. First he looks at his life in the past. He sees all the potential in his life. He sees that his life might have been different. His heart is softened toward himself. He is able to find the distance necessary to let his guard down to truly examine how he got where he is. Without this step, he would just be defensive and never be able to see what he needs to see.

In the same way, it is important for us to have compassion on ourselves. To ask, “How did I get where I am?” helps us to see that we could have taken another path and we can, still. It helps us to have forgiveness for ourselves. We don’t just start out this way. Usually there is good reason that we are how we are. This doesn’t mean we don’t have choices—it shows we do. We chose to respond a certain way to the troubles and pressures of life and that’s how we got here. Going over the past, helps us see how we don’t need to repeat that in the present or future.

We don’t know how clearly the rich man can see his past, but we know he sees it well enough to remember the name of the man he repeatedly stepped over to get to his house. We know he is seeing this man now, who he seemed not to see before. Maybe it occurs to him that he could have helped and he wouldn’t have even felt it.

So then we come to the present. Scrooge sees the consequences of what he has done. He sees how he is hurting people right now, how he is missing out on relationships and love, how he is disconnected and all alone. He sees how people are making the best of their lives despite how he’s cheated them and how they have love for each other—something he doesn’t have.

How often do we stop and look around and say, “Is this where I want to be?” This story helps us do that. When we do we might see how some of our relationships could be improved or what we’ve done to mess them up. We might look at our list of unfinished business and see if there is something we could check off—someone we need to talk to, apologies we need to express, hopes we need to pursue. So often we are distracted by just the day to day things that need to be done, we forget to stop and look around and see if our life is going the way we intend it to and see how we can better respond to the things life throws our way.

Finally, Scrooge gets to see the future. This part used to scare me a lot, when I was growing up. He gets to see what might happen if he continues to act this way. He sees that Tiny Tim has died as a consequence of his actions. He sees his own grave.

This is the part of the parable that Jesus tells today. He tells the scary part. I am not that excited about using fear and threats as motivation, yet both these stories make us sit up and pay attention. They both tell us that there are long-term consequences of our actions. What we do in this life has ripple effects for a long, long time. The hurt that we cause goes on and on after we die. To feel that jab of guilt now, can motivate us to make a change that is going to better for all of us.

Scrooge wakes up, realizing that he’s been given a second chance. He is absolutely giddy with joy in being generous. It is too late for the rich man, but remember that he is a fictional character. This story is for his brothers who still have a second chance to sit up and pay attention—who still have a chance to see what he missed in life. We are all those brothers, invited now to pay attention—to look around at all those we’ve ignored and bridge those gaps, show compassion, build those relationships, and be generous.

The media tries to convince us to look up to the rich and famous. The Bible is a counter point to all of that. It elevates the poor as the ones who are blessed. The rich are the ones to feel sorry for. That is bad news for us, because we are the rich, right? What is helpful is that we have this warning, this wake-up call to remind us to see what is right in front of us. And there is more good news in 1 Timothy. Yes, the rich have more woes. We’ve got to watch out for all these extra temptations and keep our eyes clear and focus on what really matters. Our lives can’t be about just getting more stuff and money. That isn’t going to be good for us or anyone else. This scripture shows mercy even on us wealthy folks and gives extra advice to us since we are going to need it. It reminds us to focus on generosity, being rich in good works, and not to be haughty, and to pursue righteousness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. There is even good news for the rich.

Someone has come from the dead to tell us about the life that really is life. We read that and we know that Jesus came. It is that little wink to us because we know the rest of the story. But does knowing the rest of the story help open our eyes or keep us comfortable. Jesus is going to keep coming to us in stories and the people we meet to wake us up to take hold of the life that really is life and bridge the gaps in this life. God bridged the gap between heaven and earth and bridges the gaps between us. We have a choice what kind of life we will live. Will we live like Jesus, bridging gaps or like the rich man, increasing them? Will we really live for relationships or for our stuff? Jesus wants to give us new life right now, will we accept it, or refuse to see the realities before us.

I think one of the Lazarus’ at our door is our earth. It literally lays at our doorstep, wounded and crying out. And we step right past on our way to church or our job or to our parties. Will we wake up to see the distance we put between ourselves and this earth to which we are closely linked and which God made for us to care for? Will we realize it isn’t too late for us or for future generations and start acting generously storing up the treasure of a good foundation for the future and invest in the life that really is life?

Let us give thanks for God who shows mercy on us and gives us a second chance to be rich in what matters. Let us give thanks to God who bridges the gap to come to us to give us life. May our eyes be opened to the realities all around us. May our arms be opened in generosity to those Jesus puts in our path of life. May we share that life with all we meet, sharing the life that really is life.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

September 22, 2013

Gospel: Luke 16:1-13
1st Reading: Amos 8:4-7
2nd Reading: 1 Timothy 2:1-7

Welcome to one of the most confusing Gospel readings in the whole Bible! What are we going to learn from this one? Thankfully, I have a whole week to study these things and help untangle them. This is where I am at.

We’ve got people. We create situations of isolation and alienation. We argue. We are selfish. We are greedy. We can’t get along. It is in the Old Testament reading: we disregard each other, we take advantage of people, we cheat people, we are greedy. We can read that and say, “That’s not me.” But that wouldn’t be being honest with ourselves. We like to buy our groceries cheap. Therefore the farm workers aren’t going to be paid well and their working conditions aren’t going to be good. Sometimes people who work in grocery stores or department stores don’t get paid well because we don’t want to pay a higher price. We saw what happened when that garment factory collapsed in Bangladesh. That day, I looked in my closet and wondered whether something I owned was made in that place, handled by one of those people who now lay beneath a sheet or still lost in the rubble. We can say, “That’s not me,” only because we are so removed from where our food and clothing comes from that we don’t know who suffers because of what we have and what we consume.

In the reading from 1 Timothy, there is a situation of isolation and alienation. People are separated from each other by a lack of a quiet and peaceable life and by social status and rank, like Kings are removed from the people.

In the Gospel, the manager is isolated and separated. He’s not one of the merchants who purchase the olive oil and wheat on credit. He’s got a manager’s position, so he has power over them and helps to set prices that determine whether they can do business or not. He’s not like the rich man—the rich man needs him to keep him rich. He’s all alone in his middle management position. Now he’s fired. He’s in big trouble and he sees it is only going to get worse. He has no marketable skills. He has no friends. He has no safety net. He is completely alone and if he doesn’t act fast, he will die

We, too, find ourselves isolated and afraid. We don’t know our neighbors. We often live far from family and friends. We sit in front of our computers and televisions instead of building relationships. We feel alone and there is no one we can talk to about it because we don’t have close enough friends to bear our hearts to and find some connection and comfort. We even sometimes feel distant from God and alone in our troubles.

The good news for this morning is that we aren’t alone. God hears our prayers and feels the ache of our hearts. God is right there with us in our suffering. This isn’t the way it is supposed to be and something can be done about it. God desires everyone to be saved from this place of isolation and embraced in the warmth of God’s love, and as one of my study commentaries said, “Doesn’t God get what God wants?”

God is a safety net. God will be there for us no matter what. Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. God will never leave us or forsake us. “There is one God, one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as a ransom for all.” We all belong to God.

However, that doesn’t mean we won’t have trouble in our lives. God gives us the opportunity to be a safety net for each other. That’s where prayer comes in. Prayer is meant to be a first step in building a safety net. To pray is to communicate with God. And it is to turn our hearts and attention toward those who need it. When someone offers a prayer, here, in church, our ears prick up. We look for the connections with our own lives. We might jot down a name. We begin to feel compassion for that person like God does. Sometimes that is enough. Usually, we ask later and follow up with how the situation is going with the person who prayed. We might offer our own experience and offer support. Sometimes we get to help with physical assistance, material donations, or money. Sometimes we get to offer moral support and encouragement.

My cousin Curtis was recently in a terrible accident. Even though I was on vacation, it was a comfort to me to know that you were all praying. It wasn’t just a comfort to me, but to my mom who called the prayer request in, and to Curtis’ wife, siblings, mom, and dad. They were feeling so alone, but it lifted their spirits and helped them get out of bed every day, knowing they really weren’t alone.

When I got back from vacation, many of you asked me about him and how he was doing. It was good to tell his story, even though it was one of despair and pain. My cousin was driving drunk. But because of him, all my aunts and uncles have been having talks with all the cousins and maybe history will not have to repeat itself in our family that seems to carry the alcoholic gene.

Now my cousin, who was considered brain dead and a hopeless case, has awakened from his coma. He talks and understands and remembers some. He is blind. He has been released to a rehab center for months and maybe years of physical therapy. I am sure some days he feels alone, but he is a newlywed and has two beautiful young children to live for. I hope that prayer will continue to buoy his spirits. And when I see him next time, it won’t be like the last 5 years when we’ve seen each other—we’ll have something to talk about. I know more of his story and I can share a part of mine, that our community of faith prayed for him and uttered his name with compassion and care in our hearts.

Prayer is communication with God. It is a refusal to accept what our minds and culture and situation try to tell us everyday, which is this, “You are alone.” We are acting with faith that we are not alone and that we have God who listens. We are reaching out to find out and inevitably God is there and people are there who care and willing to help. To pray is to make an initial attempt at contact. Prayer asks, “Is anybody there?”

In the first reading, the rich trample on the needy, pretend like they are the only ones that matter and cheat others to increase their wealth. But sooner or later they are going to be made aware that their wealth cannot befriend them or bring them comfort in their time of need. We all need to be building relationships with others around us to have a fulfilling life.

In 1 Timothy, we are urged to pray for everyone—not just believers, not just in our circle of friends, not just those in our social class or political party. We are asked to reach out in every direction. We might just make a connection that we weren’t expecting. We might find compassion in our hearts for a leader that seems like an idiot, but might actually have something to offer that we might have missed.

In the Parable of the Shrewd Manager, in desperation the manager reaches out to those around him. The 50% and 20% he writes off their bill was probably his cut. He forgoes his profit in order to invest in what really is going to carry him through. His money will run out, but friends offer a more lasting and secure safety net. Maybe through them he can get a new job or a recommendation.

When we reach out in prayer, we have to admit to ourselves that we are in need. We can’t fulfill our own every need. We reach out for connection because we can’t do it all ourselves. We need each other. That is what Christian community is about. Today we welcome Tyana and Patricio and Khalea and Grace and Julia. We are saying to them, we need you. We are not all we could be without you. We need you to teach us what it means to see through your eyes and experiences. We need you to teach us about your lives and your places where connections and safety nets could be stronger. We need to hear your stories. They are saying to us, we need you, King of Kings, to help us raise our kids in the faith, to help our family remember how important it is to be active in the community in partnership with so many others.

Maybe it seems silly in a world where we are supposed to be so independent. But rather than independent we feel alone, and faith community is a place that challenges that and says, “Let’s work together.” Baptism is a sacrament in which God says, “Let’s work together.” In Holy Communion, God says to us and we say to God, “Let’s work together.” And it doesn’t stop here. We reach out beyond our walls, because even as a church we can’t do it ourselves, nor should we and we say to God’s community in our neighborhood, “Let’s work together.” “Let’s work together” to feed hungry people. “Let’s work together,” to care for the earth. “Let’s work together,” to make sure people have enough to live on. “Let’s work together,” to find resources for people in our community in need. “Let’s work together.”

September 15, 2013

Gospel: Luke 15:1-10
1st Reading: Exodus 32:7-14
2nd Reading: 1 Timothy 1:12-17

I have to admit, I’m not that great at keeping my house clean. It is a lot cleaner since we have a child, now, and have to keep our chaos under control or risk harm to our child. Still I struggle with keeping house. My mom vacuumed our house every morning and every night when I was growing up because she did daycare out of our home and needed to keep it up for her business. But it hasn’t always been my priority. A year after we moved into our house, we pulled up the carpets and refinished the wood floor. With carpet, you just don’t know that your house is clean, especially with three cats, as we had at the time. We were so happy to find a beautiful hardwood there, beautiful pecan floors in pretty good shape. So, I do a lot of sweeping, as you can imagine. That’s the way to get the dirt off of a wood floor along with an occasional scrub. Often I sweep when I get to sneezing—when there is so much dust and cat hair that it triggers my allergies, or when we are having company over, or when I’m mad. It helps me sort out my thoughts. An organized house, an organized mind. I can sort out my frustrations and I’ll have a wonderful result in the end.

These days, I can only sweep when Sterling is napping or after he’s gone to bed, otherwise I have a helper. The other day, my husband swept the kitchen and got distracted. He left the piles, and pretty soon, here was Sterling with the broom, sweeping those piles all over the kitchen again. The other thing that happens when I try to sweep when he’s awake, is that he sees something of value there and tries to eat all the Cheerios he’s rejected that end up in my pile.

Here’s God, who for all these years has been trying to tell the people how to keep their house in order and how to sweep, is now coming in to show people how it’s done. Jesus swept into this world, practically unnoticed. Some angels sang and some shepherds showed up. Maybe the stable he was born in could have used a sweeping. Maybe some people would have liked to sweep his mother under the rug—an unwed mother! He grew up knowing manual labor. He probably swept Joseph’s carpenter shop every day—not a very glamorous job for God our Creator.

When Jesus came on the scene, his cousin, John the Baptist, was ecstatic. Here’s the guy who is going to clear God’s threshing floor. Here is the one who will separate the grain from the chaff—get rid of everyone and everyone getting in the way of God’s rules and God’s reign. Next thing you know, Herod has swept John right out of existence.

When the Pharisees saw Jesus sweeping across the land, they were probably happy at first. Here’s a guy who likes to keep things nice and neat, they thought. He’s going to keep out the riff raff. He’s going to tidy up the temple and keep it the way we like it. He’s going to make sure the temple system that has gone on this long continues, promote the right kind of people to positions of power, make sure the poor stay that way.

Only God has a different idea of sweeping and of riff raff and of the value of people. Our systems don’t make sense to God. Since we are all God’s children, God sees value in all of us. When I sweep up my pile, I see different things of value than my little son sees. I’ve got to get those discarded Cheerios out of sight, and fast before they’re claimed again by little fingers. I’ve sometimes reflected that in some places in the world, those would be of value to people. But I can go get another box of cereal for $3 or so, which is pretty much meaningless to me. Many people in the world make $3 a day and have to support their families on that. I usually do take a quick look at my pile and make sure there isn’t something I do value. Sometimes I find a rubber band, or a straight pin for sewing, or a safety pin. Sometimes I find a dime or a penny. I usually sort that stuff out. I have a ton of rubber bands piling up, so I might be more inclined to throw that away. What has value and what doesn’t, is in the eye of the sweeper.

When God is the sweeper, all people are valued. We are all in that dirt pile of sin, of confusion, of compromises, of anger. That’s what the religious people didn’t see. They thought they were better than others, due to some accident of birth that gave them access to riches and education and position and power. But God was there when they were born, knew their dirt pile of greedy, fearful thoughts, and brought them into the fold. God only hoped they would do the same for others. Instead they used their position to keep others out. So God came among us as Jesus to show how to sweep up. Sweeping became a collection process for finding the value, not just a way of getting rid of unwanted dirt.

Paul, for one, was glad that Jesus did the sweeping. Under any kind of common sense, he should have paid for his crimes. Probably many others were suspicious of his confession that came so late. Was it sincere, or a result of finding himself blind and vulnerable in the hands of some Jewish followers of Jesus? Well Jesus swept him up all right. I’ll bet there were a lot people who would have been glad to see Paul thrown in the trash. But even in him, a blasphemer, a man of violence, and a persecutor, God saw value. God picked him up and showed him that there are better places to be than the dirt pile—that God had more in mind for him. God was going to put him to work in God’s service.

For the Israelites, God found the people in a heap of dirt, the Egyptians holding them in slavery. But God saw the value and potential in them and sorted them out of that dirt pile. Like little kids, they seemed to keep getting back in it, like we all do. At one, point, it seems God was ready to give up. That’s where this morning’s Old Testament reading comes in. God finds the Israelites worshiping other gods and being unfaithful and not following God’s rules. But Moses pleads with God to see the value in the people. We find that God isn’t willing to abandon people, even when they abandon God. God is completely faithful, although that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t occur to God to just forget the whole thing. God, by nature, is love, so no matter how many times God sweeps us up, God is happy to see us and let everyone know how glad God is that we are back in the purse or the fold or family.

So now that God has swept us up and polished us up, the question is whether we will then begrudge God for doing that for others. Or will we work to see the value in every other person. Maybe we don’t even need to see the evidence of their value, but can just trust that God values them, so they are of value. And then we get to learn what it means to treat every other person as having value. Can we value people with opinions that are different from ours, who live on the other side of the world, who think different than we do? And then the question is this, “What does it mean to value other people?” or “What does it mean to value God’s creation?”

It starts by cleaning our own house. We can sweep up the dirt of prejudice and ignorance right where we live. We examine that pile of dirt and recognize it for what it is. And we sort out from it what has value and what doesn’t and throw away the dirt and keep the rest.