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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

April 28, 2013

Gospel: John 13:31-35
1st Reading: Acts 11:1-18
Psalm 148
2nd Reading: Revelation 21:1-6

When I was a teenager, I played church league softball. I understand you had a team here, too, in the 80’s. My dad was not involved in church at all, but he was the coach of our team and for a few years he even coordinated all the teams, making the schedule, reserving the fields, and resolving disputes.

One really fun thing about it was the mixture of people. Our pastor was the pitcher. Mom played third base. Dad invited his friend from work who struggled to watch his language. Dad’s friend’s girlfriend played shortstop despite the fact that she had a rod in her spine. Pastor Grumm reminded them in a teasing way that he was prepared to conduct a wedding at any time for this couple who was living together. I played catcher. My sister looked after the other children. It was such a funny mix. The Lutherans played the Baptists and the Methodists, and the Missouri Synod congregation, and even the Holy Rollers. It was the only time we got together. It was community.

I went with my dad one year to purchase the trophies for the tournament. As we stood in the trophy shop, I noticed that they had female figures for the top of the trophies. I thought that was pretty exciting. Girls mattered, too. We had both genders in the league. I suggested that we order some of the trophies with a woman baseball player on them.

My dad was smart that day. He didn’t argue with me. And he didn’t play that game, trying to decide—would the female player go on the first, second, or third place trophy. Instead he ordered female baseball players on all of the trophies. I was ecstatic! He heard me. He understood me. And he risked ridicule to be inclusive and loving. There are times when my dad got it right, and that was one of those times I was really proud of my dad and felt that he really valued me.

In today’s Gospel, the disciples have been a team. They’ve all got their positions and batting order. They know each other’s strengths. They’ve learned to call, “Got it!” in the outfield and when a double play made sense and when it didn’t. But now their coach is going away. It is a low moment.

The Gospel starts with this, “When he had gone out.” “He” refers to Judas. The team is losing a player and the coach. The coach is giving them a pep-talk and giving them the lineup for future games before he takes his leave.

He gives them a new commandment. Love has always been the commandment—at the root of all other commandments. So what is new about it? What is new is that he is about to show them the width of that love that is all-encompassing. And he is about to show them the depth of love that he has been talking about as he goes to the cross. Jesus starts with the word, “now.” The second thing that is new is that this is not some future reality, but it is about “now.” God’s Kingdom is now. God’s love is now. Now, God is in their midst.

At this moment of fear and sadness, Jesus speaks of glory. When I think of glory, I think of the Transfiguration or when the shepherds heard the angels proclaiming Jesus’ birth, “The glory of the Lord, shown around them.” I always think of this in Linus’ voice from Charlie Brown, because of the children’s special. The glory can be seen. It is light. It is as if the lights of the baseball field are coming on. There is that sound of the breakers being thrown and that bright shining light flooding the field. What had been so dark before, is about to be illuminated. The disciples’ weaknesses are exposed. After betraying Jesus, Judas is about to take a good long look at himself and find himself ashamed and in despair. The soldiers will mock him as the “The King of the Jews” and they will be saying what is true. The criminals crucified on either side of him will see him for who he is.

This moment of deep darkness is one of glory and light. God will use it to bring about the redemption of all God’s creation. In it we will see our fault and our failures illuminated by the glory of God. In it we will turn to God. In it, we will see our unity with our Creator. In it we will learn what love looks like.

The lights go up and suddenly all is exposed. In the first reading for this morning, the light reveals some new players want to come onto the field. They’ve noticed what is going on and they want to be a part of it. Peter is under a lot of pressure not to let them play. Yet, it isn’t Peter’s ball field. It is God’s field.

Jesus left the disciples with that deep and wide vision of love in that pep-talk. God reminds Peter again in this dream. It used to be you showed your faithfulness by living by this set of rules and an important part had to do with what you eat. You keep your purity by not eating certain things. It was probably helpful to the Israelite community to stay away from pork and lizards and shellfish, yet God is saying that love is the bottom line. When the rules cease to be about love, and start to be about us vs. them, forget it. The rules can sometime divide us, but the purpose of the rules is to bring us together. When the rules get in the way of God’s love, throw them out.

Church league softball is the same way. You have rules and you have sportsmanship—another word for love. When it is a contest between rules and sportsmanship, sportsmanship wins. Love wins. When someone is injured in church league softball and has to stop playing, everyone stops and prays. If there is a close call, you listen to the umpire—no arguing! If you have a player who is a weak link, you have every right according to the rules to put him or her on the bench, but in church league softball that person plays because there is no distinction.

Peter has to hear it and see it three times for it to start to sink in. There can be no mistaking it. And before he has time to forget what God said, three people arrive to take him to Caesarea—a place just full of people who eat lizards and dogs and maybe even bugs. All he can do is to preach the good news and open the team to all who want to play the game. But he still has to explain it to those back home that say, “No.” That’s what this passage is all about. “You object, but what choice did I have? It wasn’t up to me. Blame the Holy Spirit. You know there is no controlling the Holy Spirit. Who was I that I could hinder God?”

Some of the earliest believers saw it right away and accepted these new believers. Others went kicking and screaming. And believe me, eating was only the first hurdle. Yes, eating is an outward sign—a way of showing culture and loyalty and purity. But other things would enter in—the language you speak, the country you live in, the clothes you wear, your gender, your sexuality, the kind of music you prefer. We are still working through many of these divisions. But God makes it clear not to make any distinction and not to hinder God. And whether you accept it right away or curse out the umpire, God’s vision of love is what is going to win out, so we might as well accept it.

And just when we thought we were expanding our view of who can be on the team, we get a vision in revelation. God is making all things new, a new heaven and a new earth. This vision of love is not just for humans. After all, where can we play the game without the field? Suddenly we realize that all things are interconnected. All of God’s creation is worthy of our love.

I remember before I was old enough to play on the softball team, romping through the fields nearby, climbing trees and catching caterpillars. I remember on hot days, as the sun started going down, the refreshing breeze cooling us all—the Holy Spirit offering relief. I remember the drinking fountains of living water where we took long, cool sips and sometimes splashed each other. And I remember picking up our trash, leaving the field how we found it so others could enjoy it.

God’s creation has always been a part of what we do—essential, really. Will we always see God’s creation as a lesser part of our lives? Someday will we put it on the third place trophy? Or will we allow it to have its place as central, as important, and celebrate it the way we celebrate ourselves? Creation is God’s, yet we treat it as ours. Instead let us care for it as it cares for us, and see God’s glory in the people we meet as well as this earth that reflects the depth of God’s love.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

April 21, 2013

Gospel: John 10:22-30
1st Reading: Acts 9:36-43
Psalm 23
2nd Reading: Revelation 7:9-17

Last December Nick and I found a babysitter one Saturday and went on a date. Nick looked up the movie times on the internet and we made all the arrangements. When we got to the theater we bought our tickets and went in. But just as we were to enter the theater, we saw the doors were closed and the movie had started about 20 minutes before. We had planned to see the movie Lincoln on the recommendation of many of you. But it was not to be. Our childcare was on a schedule so we went Christmas shopping and probably a good thing we did because otherwise we would probably not bought each other anything for Christmas.

This week Nick finally rented Lincoln on BlueRay and as I read the lessons for today, I couldn’t help but see a connection. Often Steven Spielberg includes Messianic characters in his stories—characters that have attributes of a Messiah or Christ. And many of his characters are like the prophets. It makes for an interesting story, with all the difficulties of life, but also with a message of hope. This movie was no different.

As I read this lesson from Revelation, I pictured a throne room. Lord of the Rings came to mind, and Lincoln. Lincoln didn’t exactly sit on a throne, but in a figurative way, he did as President of the United States. It was interesting to see who surrounded Lincoln in the Oval office and around the White House. It was interesting to spy on his conversations, to see who groveled and who resisted and who gave him the straight facts and who pussy-footed around. There were a few close friends and confidantes that were there because they believed in him—even though they disagreed with him about approach and his optimism and his drivenness, among other things. Most people were they because they wanted something. They wanted a job or they wanted control of something or they wanted power and influence. And it turned out, Lincoln wanted something, too. I don’t know if he was really so single-minded as he was portrayed in the film, but he wanted an end to slavery. He indicated that he had been troubled about it for as long as he could remember, since he saw a slave-ship as a boy. And even more than that, it seemed he was truly interested in the well-being of the country. For him, ending slavery was the best thing for everyone in the long-run, and he didn’t stop at anything to make that happen.

Lincoln found himself using bribery to get the votes he needed to abolish slavery and get it in the Constitution, giving jobs to outgoing Democratic Representatives who would vote with the Republicans to end slavery. In some ways it was dishonest. But as the film progressed, it seemed more and more that Lincoln was really giving these Democrats a chance to do what they knew was right in their hearts, so that on the day of the vote, those on the side of right encouraged each other so that even more were swayed to vote for the amendment.

Now see this throne room in the book of Revelation. It is one view of what the next life may be like. Basically, it is people expressing their devotion to God day in and day out, without end. It is an eternal worship service. Here, people are gathered, not to get something for themselves, but in pure awe and thankfulness and wonder. They are here to express their love and gratitude to one who gave them life and brought them to eternal life. And these are martyrs—the ones whose robes have been washed in the blood of the lamb. They’ve given their lives for God. They’ve suffered and died for God. Yet they don’t blame God or want anything from God. They just want to be near God.

Now God’s throne room on earth is different. Many times we approach God with our wishes and our agenda. Some wanted to see another miracle from Jesus. Some liked the lunches he provided. Some wanted to be told they were A-OK and get that stamp of approval, so they could keep living life the same way they always had been. God doesn’t hold it against us when we come to him with our agenda. But God is also clear that His agenda will proceed. And God’s agenda is love.

In the first reading, today, Tabitha dies—a lady disciple! She was an example to others. She did many things that helped other people. She was loving and she was loved. And she died. Peter was called in. He’d never raised the dead before. But he was called and he came. He followed the steps that Jesus did when he raised the little girl. Tabitha was restored to life and to community.

I know that I don’t expect to raise the dead. Whether this happened exactly as it is reported here or not, this story is still very important. It tells us that sharing new life isn’t just for Jesus to do. We are to spread new life in whatever ways we can. This week many people had the opportunity to spread new life. Maybe dead people weren’t raised, but maybe some were saved from death by quick thinking passersby who removed barriers from the Marathon route, others who made tourniquets from their own clothing, and those who carried people to triage tents to receive care. Isn’t this new life? Many people opened their homes to perfect strangers from around the world who couldn’t get back into their hotel rooms or get flights out of Boston. People didn’t let this horrific incident keep them down, but they got up and they got to work, doing what needed to be done. And new life came from this. Friendships that will last a lifetime began this week when people worked together to help each other. God’s agenda of love was lived this week, despite someone’s attempt to bring about the opposite.

In the reading from Revelation, a picture of one possibility of what might be when we are all gathered together in God’s Kingdom, people of all tribes and languages are gathered. There is no division, no other agendas. Everyone is together, in relationship, in love, in peace. There is no hunger or sadness or thirst or heat. Everything is in balance.

Jesus was clear that his Kingdom is coming to this earth. This might be a picture of heaven after we die. But Jesus asked us to live that loving Kingdom now. God is making this a reality through us. In 20 years we’ve cut malaria deaths in half. Now instead of a person dying every 30 seconds from malaria, it is now every 60 seconds. The reality of God’s Kingdom is coming into this world. Where do you see God’s Kingdom of love and unity showing up?

In the Gospel lesson, Jesus is walking in the temple—the king is in the castle. People are surrounding him, wanted something from him. They want to trap him. They want to gain power for themselves. They want to be rich and smart and comfortable. They don’t want anyone messing with their way of life. And Jesus tells them plainly enough. “It isn’t about you and your comfort. The messiah isn’t here to make your life easy and fun and give you everything you want. The Messiah is here to follow the Father’s agenda of love. Love is about relationship. It is about unity. So get with the program, the agenda of love.” God is love. God’s son, Jesus, is love. We are God’s creation, made in God’s image, the image of love. We belong to each other. We belong in relationship and balance with each other. So why don’t we act like it? We are only destroying ourselves and each other.

The film Lincoln shows us, accurate or not, a leader whose purpose is unity and love. He does not stop at any means to abolish slavery because of his love for his country and his fellow human beings. As he pleaded and bribed and told amusing stories and shouted and twisted words, he brought about the best in people and the best in this nation. He used love, his relationships with people to help them come to the right decision for the good of everyone.

God is also a single-minded leader who uses a variety of means to turn us toward love. Sometimes threatening, sometimes bribing, sometimes reminding, and many times telling stories, God reminds us of why love matters, what love looks like, and most importantly, helps us see that vision of a day when we will all be loving and all in unity. “Tell us plainly,” we cried. And he did not fight back when we hung him on the cross, but taught us what it means to truly love and be in unity in this life and the next by giving us eternal life and love.

April 14, 2013

Gospel: John 21:1-19
1st Reading: Acts 9:1-20
Psalm 30
2nd Reading: Revelation 5:11-14

Last weekend I went to visit my sister and her family. She has two boys who are 3 and 6. Sometime on Saturday I called my younger nephew, “Pumpkin.” He is such a sweet boy and still talks with that baby voice. “Why you call me pumpkin, aunt Aimee?” “Because I love you and you’re a sweetheart,” I replied. “Oh,” he said. Pet names have always been part of my vocabulary. When we were little our mom called us pumpkin, too, or puddin’. When I was pregnant we referred to our fetus as “Peanut.” When I was growing up I was “Aimee Lou,” since my middle name is Louise. That’s Pastor Aimee Lou, to you! I used to hate being called that because it reminded me of a country bumpkin, but now I feel all warm inside when my uncles or my mom call me that.

My niece and nephew called their grandma and grandpa, “Grandma Honey” and “Grandpa Kiddo” for precisely the pet names they called their grandkids. These pet names “Honey” and “Kiddo” were bestowed on the grandkids and then the grandkids bestowed them back upon their grandparents with grandma and grandpa names attached.

There is something about pet names that conveys a kind of close relationship. Peter knew that. His given name was Simon. But Jesus gave him the name Peter. His new life as a disciple, as someone close to Jesus meant he needed a new name, a pet name to convey that closeness. The other disciples didn’t get new names, but Peter did.

And Paul did, too. On the road to Damascus, Saul, who had been persecuting the Christians, found himself talking to God, blinded, and thrown from his horse. God gives him a new name to distinguish his old life from his new identity and a new closeness to God. Saul got the name Paul.

When Jesus appears to Paul and the other disciples in the Gospel for this morning, he doesn’t call Peter by that pet name. He goes back to calling him Simon. I wonder how Peter heard that. He had just denied Jesus three times. Now Jesus calls him Simon three times and asks if he loves him. Is Peter waiting for that scolding? Is he waiting to hear how disappointed Jesus is in him? Does he long to be called that close pet name again? How does he feel when Jesus asks him this question, “Do you love me?” Has Peter lain awake at night reliving those denials and imagining it had gone differently?

Now Jesus is using his more distant name. Did that scare him? Could he ever have imagined that Jesus would put him in charge of seeing that his lambs were cared for and fed after the way he had abandoned his Savior in his time of need? Jesus gives him that assignment three times. Jesus gives him a chance to say how much he loves him three times. And Jesus shows him that he still trusts him by putting him in charge of his vulnerable lambs.

In today’s scripture, we hear Jesus referring to his people as “my lambs.” I think of this as a kind of old-fashioned pet name, and maybe even more old-fashioned than I thought, if Jesus is even using it. Lambs, like pumpkin and puddin’ indicates a softness. Like peanut, it indicates a smallness. Like all these it indicates a sweetness. He calls his people his lambs partly because he is the shepherd. And it is partly because of how vulnerable they are. Lambs are helpless. Without their shepherd they can’t find food or water, they are easy prey for wolves and other predators, they don’t know where to go. So who are Jesus’ lambs? Certainly there are people who have trouble getting their most basic needs met. Babies and children are certainly lambs. Some elderly or differently-abled people might meet that criteria. In Jesus’ time, widows and lepers would have fallen into this category. It is the people who fall through the cracks.

But aren’t we all lambs in some way? We are all somewhere on the lamb spectrum. All sin and fall short of the glory of God. All are broken and vulnerable in some way. Even Peter, who is definitely one of the privileged—close to Jesus, able bodied, making his own living as a fisherman, able to swim and be active, even having a chance to walk on water. Yet even he found himself shaking and stuttering in Jesus’ presence, unable to catch those fish he had spent his life trying to catch, found naked in the boat and putting on his clothes to jump in the water, getting it all backward. This guy, who was Jesus right hand man, found himself a lamb, needing forgiveness, needing encouragement, needing direction, needing his shepherd. And each of us find ourselves more or less lambs in life’s journey, Jesus calling us by our pet names to come to his table, his pasture to feed and have new life.

And though we are helpless lambs, Jesus little pumpkins, we all have areas of strength, too. That’s really the lesson we’ve learned from serving at the pantry. Those who come have something of value to contribute. Some bring their own shopping bags. Some help others carry their bags up the stairs. Some provide transportation to others. Some provide encouragement and community. Some come and volunteer at the pantry. It turns out we are all not just vulnerable, but also capable with something important to do.

Jesus gives Peter the responsibility to feed his sheep, but he isn’t going to just shovel feed at them. Jesus is making sure that this feeding will come out of his love for Jesus. There are times we find ourselves at the pantry or other volunteer opportunities, frustrated and grouchy. But usually someone stops and remembers why we’re doing what we do—it is because of our love for Jesus, and it just makes it easier to keep going with a friendly smile and the same generous spirit that Jesus shared with us. That’s when it really becomes life-giving for both the volunteers and the clients. And many times it is the smiles and appreciation of the clients that make us remember Jesus’ love in the first place.

Another thing Jesus does is to be an example of feeding. There is a barbecue breakfast on the beach that morning. Providing food is one step. But eating together is even more what it is about. I see that when we provide samples. I love it when the kids approach the sample table over and over again, asking please, appreciating a taste of something special and delicious. It is a way of modeling simple recipes and encouraging people to cook. We also find ourselves bound closer together when we share food at our coffee hours. Everyone knows that when you ask someone to do something for you over a beer it is so hard to say no, because you’ve got that connection. And that’s why we gather, week after week, around the meal of Jesus’ remembrance, reconnecting ourselves to him, reconnecting with each other and with Christians of all times and places, because this is about being fed with food, and even more important, with relationship and connection—communion, union-together. This is an empowering meal. Like other meals it gives our bodies nutrition. But more than that it gives us the power to go out and use our gifts to proclaim, one, two, three times and more that we love Jesus and we love his precious lambs and show our willingness to follow him and to feed his sheep.

We all have been a part of feeding those sheep and doing what we could for Jesus’ lambs. Today, is a day that the council and your congregation would like to thank you for all you do in this community. Today we are doing the reverse offering. We, as your council, would like to thank you for all you. So please as the plates are passed, receive a small offering of our gratitude. And I am going to name some of the ways you give your time and talents and as I call an activity in which you participate I invite you to stand and be recognized.

If you are on the Christian Education Committee, helped with a Super Saturday or helped with Bible School

If you help with Backpack buddies or King’s Cupboard

If you serve on the property team, helped with a church cleanup day or helped maintain the building or grounds

If you serve on the Finance team, Mission Endowment Board, Stewardship Action Core, or have helped with an audit

If you have brought food for coffee hour or for a memorial service or baby shower

If you have made a prayer shawl or participated in Sewing for Others

If you help with the website or changing the church sign

If you serve on the council, mutual ministry team, or MACG core team

If you sing in the choir, have participated in the chime choir, or provide music during the summer

If you help on Sunday morning as an usher, greeter, reader, acolyte, communion assistant, offering counter, or assisting minister

If you serve on altar guild getting communion ready preparing the sanctuary for the different seasons of the church year or make communion bread.

If you have sent a card to someone who was ill or grieving or if you called a first-time visitor to welcome them.

If you provided flowers or the children’s message on a Sunday morning

If you have held this congregation in your prayers

We thank God for all of you, your faithfulness and all you do. You all help make this a place of vital ministry, that makes a difference to us and the community. Thank you so much.

Easter Sunday March 31, 2013

Gospel: Luke 24:1-12
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
1st Reading: Acts 10:34-43
2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:19-26

I invite you to put yourself in that garden that morning. All is dark and then the sky begins lighten. See the dew on the plants. Smell that morning garden smell. As the sun rises, the birds begin to call to one another. It is just as it was in that first garden called Eden, where creation was singing God’s praises and glorifying God, but humankind was a little off track. I guess in both gardens they were.

But in this garden, the humans won’t be expelled. A separation won’t be coming between God and humankind. Instead, God will use this offense, the torture and death of his beloved child to draw near to humanity, to envelope them in forgiveness, bring a new Kingdom, restore relationship, and adopt them into one family forever.

In that first garden of Eden, Jesus was present. “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.” Jesus is the saving word spoken at creation that brings all things into being. In this other garden, Jesus is also present.

Do you hear another little sound? It is coming from over by the rock wall. It is a little tap tap. As you draw closer notice it is the grinding of the stone as it begins to jiggle—then a budge and another, and then finally the stone begins to roll free of the tomb.

A crack of light enters the tomb and then spreads across the floor of the cave. See Jesus standing there looking out, squinting a little maybe. Does he yawn? Does he stretch? Imagine him folding his grave cloths and laying them neatly there. His mother raised him right—or was it his Father? The men in dazzling white must have provided something suitable for him to wear.

Did he watch from a corner of the garden as the women approached the burial place? Maybe he heard their chatter as they came down the path. Did he see the looks on their faces? Would he hold it against them that they were surprised, even though he had told them over and over what was going to happen—that he would be crucified but that he would rise on the third day? Hadn’t they listened to a thing he said? But he would have looked on them with joy as they started to finally understand. He made them the first preachers of the good news, even though no one would believe them, that the world was turned upside down, the one who was dead is alive, and God’s Kingdom is most surely here.

Did he wait to see what would happen next? Was he disappointed that only Peter came? Did he see a little hope on Peter’s face or only confusion and fear?

Now that all this activity is over, Jesus has to decide where he will go first. Will he go to the home of Mary and Martha and Lazarus? Those three have been through so much! Should he confuse them even more?

Will he go to Pilate and Herod and demand a change—freedom for captives and justice for widows? He doesn’t force anyone’s hand or use fear and intimidation. That’s a tactic that Pilate and Herod would use. It would be against everything Jesus stood for.

Would he appear to the crowds who had cried “Hosannah!” as he rode into town and laid down their cloaks to make a path for him and who turned on him two days later, crying, “Crucify him?” Would he go to them and show them how wrong they were and make them regret what they had done, if they didn’t already? That also, was against everything he stood for. His kingdom was about hope. It was about peace. It was about forgiveness. It wasn’t about getting even.

So Jesus just started walking, much like he had most of his ministry. He was on a journey to let people know about God’s love and generosity and help them to live a changed life and to recognize God’s Kingdom all around them.

His journey was no longer one of moving toward the cross. That was all behind him. Now that he had experienced the worst of what humanity had to dish out, now that he had endured betrayal, and denial, and physical pain, and mocking, and ridicule, he found himself moving forward with God’s plan to bring in the Kingdom. He could finally get down to his true mission—new life.

He was the first to experience this new life and now he was making it available to others. He was going out to show people what really mattered. He was making himself available to those that needed some hope. He was living proof that it didn’t matter what others thought of you, or whether you had any possessions. What mattered was love. What mattered was forgiveness. What mattered was generosity.

Maybe he saw that resurrection hope coming to fruition around him—God’s kingdom breaking in and becoming a reality. Maybe he saw the poor being fed, not just from his hand as he fed thousands with a few loaves, but through the hands of others inspired to share and not fearfully hoarding it for themselves. Maybe he saw people reaching out to those they had once feared—the sick, the dirty, the possessed. Maybe he saw his ministry making a difference. Maybe he saw the resurrection new life playing out all around him and spreading.

The resurrection is more than just the moment that he was raised. He was still living the resurrection, the new life. Resurrection is ongoing. He was living that resurrection, when he went to forgive, when he went to love.

Maybe on that journey that first Easter, he came across some of them who had yelled for his death, yet he made them his brothers and sisters, loved them all the same. Maybe he came across Judas’ grave and stood there mourning and weeping over a friend who had walked beside him for three years and yet was so troubled. Who would come to anoint his body? The one no one could forgive, Jesus came to save. Maybe he came across the Centurion who gave him vinegar when he asked for a drink as he hung there on the cross, his mouth so dry he could barely get out the words. If he did, he would have looked at him with compassion and forgiveness and hope for a changed life for him, knowing he was bringing with him a new way of looking at the world, where military power wouldn’t have the last word, knowing that the days of the Roman Empire were numbered, anticipating a time of peace.

But today’s Gospel reading doesn’t tell us where Jesus goes and what he does. He is most notable today by his absence. Jesus—absent on Easter? He isn’t where he’s expected to be (again)! He was supposed to be silenced, to be conquered, to be dead. Instead we encounter his confused friends. Through them, his story is going forward even though they aren’t exactly sure what the story is. The Good News is being told—“he is not here, he is risen. We’re not quite sure what that means.” Jesus is living on through the message and action of these misfits.

This story is a cliff-hanger. Where is Jesus? It is good that it is left open, because we pick up where the disciples left off. We announce with joy, “Christ is risen! Alleluia! Christ is risen indeed!” and are still in the process of living the rest of the story.

We don’t know where Jesus was that morning, so we can picture him in any scenario. See Jesus entering your workplace, looking with compassion on that co-worker you can’t stand, teaching you to see with new eyes the things that trouble others. See Jesus in creation and treat the earth with care. See Jesus in a person in need in your neighborhood and reach out a hand in friendship and sharing. See Jesus in a little child and take the time to talk to a child, be interested in what they think, learn their name. Hear Jesus in a noisy outburst and instead of being irritated, find out what’s going on and if you can help. The story comes to us unfinished. And the rest of the story is our story. It is God with us. It is resurrection continuing.

Our Savior cannot be pin-pointed on a map, but is in every saving interaction between people and in creation. So look around for your Savior here and every place you go. Look for your savior in others, especially those that you aren’t quite sure about. Look for your savior in your own words and actions. Keep your eyes peeled for him because he is there, loving you, teaching you to be generous, loving, and forgiving, bringing you hope, putting people on your path to mold and shape you, using your hands to ease someone else’s burden, giving you the words to comfort someone. The savior is not in the tomb because he is risen and he rises through the people to bring this world resurrection hope.

March 17, 2013

Gospel: John 12:1-8
1st Reading: Isaiah 43:16-21
Psalm 126
2nd Reading: Philippians 3:4b-14

I once took a trip with Judith Puhlman down to see her grandson Nicholas in Salem in the State Hospital. On the way down, we crossed many bridges and Judith reminisced about when she was a little girl and these bridges had not yet been built. You had to plan your trips around ferry schedules.

We are so fortunate to live in a state with so much water. It means that crops and plants for landscaping can grow here. But I forget sometimes how water can become a barrier—how floods have devastated places like Vernonia and Tillamook. Water is both a life-giving force and also something unpredictable and scary that can take life away.

The ancient world was all too familiar with the unpredictability of water. Of course water is necessary for life. As the Israelites traveled in the wilderness they must have worried about whether they would have the water they needed to quench their thirst. When I was a little girl, when I heard about the wilderness, I always pictured a forest from the Pacific Northwest. That was the wilderness I was familiar with. Water would have been no trouble at all! But now I know, it was actually a desert—a barren, dry place.

As the Israelites approached the Red Sea, they must have been terrified—backed into a corner. The water was a barrier and they were stuck. Of course we know the story that Moses raised his staff and God parted the waters and brought them through on dry land. The water had done its saving work. But then the water did the destructive work it is also capable of and drowned the Egyptian army.

The Disciples would have also been familiar with the paradox of water. Several of them made their living from the water. They were fishermen. They depended on the water. Yet they also knew that if a storm came up, it only took a moment to lose your boat and lose your life.

I think our faith is a little bit like water. We need it for life. We need our faith to help us understand our life. We need our faith to help us make decisions, to help us love and act with compassion, to feed our soul, and to help us share life with others.

Yet faith is also dangerous in a way. Our faith challenges us. It asks us to give something up. There are times we lose something because of our faith. Sometimes we lose relationships with friends and family that don’t understand. We are asked to give up time in our week and money in our wallet. We are asked to give up our sense that we can do it all—that we can save ourselves or be good enough for God. We are asked not to just live off the water a little bit at a time, but to dive into the river and let ourselves drown in it, to let go of ourselves and let it overtake us.

In the Old Testament reading, the people have a memory of the sea and water and what happened there. They are so thankful that God brought them through, they forgot that moment wasn’t the point. The point was a relationship with God. The point was new life. That was just the beginning of their trip to a land of plenty and safety. They want just enough water to get them through the desert and just enough to drown their enemies, but not enough to drown their old life and give them a new one. They want to praise God for what God did in the past, but they aren’t ready to see how God might give them a new life.

Paul is trying to show the Philippians what it means to have new life. He has experienced drowning, himself. He was doing everything right. Yet he couldn’t have been further from knowing God’s love. He got so stuck in following the rules that he didn’t live in relationship with God or God’s people in a way that gave life to him or to them. He had only dipped his little toe in the water.

Paul is talking about this past way of looking at how to serve God and then the whole story flips. He falls in. If you remember, Paul had a conversion experience on the road, where he experienced blindness. At that moment the old Paul was drowned. He died—not literally, but figuratively. Everything in his life changed after that. He got a name change from Saul to Paul. The Christians he had persecuted, whose family members he killed, accepted him and forgave him and took him under their wing. He lost everything—his status, his religion, his friends, his job. And he gained everything when he learned about God’s grace and love. He started over, dripping wet.

He never forgot about the past. It was the story that made his conversion so amazing. But it didn’t haunt him. He didn’t get stuck there. He used it to show that no one was outside the love of God. No one was beyond forgiveness. Knowing that, he could move forward in the new-found freedom. Paul goes into the water—willingly or not—and he rises from it to move forward in his life of faith. This is death and resurrection in this life and he goes on fearless, because he knows for sure that nothing can separate him from the love of God.

Mary has also gone through death and resurrection. Her brother Lazarus had died. She must have felt that she would drown in all those tears. Her friend Jesus, though late to come and help, had raised him from the dead. She must have been so confused—so sad, then so happy, now so sad again because she knows that Jesus will soon be killed. She lets herself go. She doesn’t over think her farewell. She doesn’t care what anyone thinks. She doesn’t care who sees. She is completely in the moment. There is no past. There is no future. There is only this moment that she shares with Jesus. Maybe she doesn’t even notice the other people in the room. She goes toward the water—that which gives life and that which claims life and takes it away. She goes toward the chaos. She doesn’t avoid the situation. She has to say goodbye. She has to express her devotion. She has been fed with the life-giving water of Jesus and she goes toward that water just as it is beginning to churn and the waves are picking up. She is heading into dangerous territory as she spends time with a wanted man. She’s got no life-jacket. She’s got no armor to protect her. She goes vulnerable and open—her hair down, her tears pouring out, no money left in the world.

And this is a fitting response because this is what God has done for us. God doesn’t dwell on the past. God doesn’t hold our past against us. God doesn’t let a little water scare him. In fact, God goes straight for the scariest and ugliest we can be and says, “I love you. Come home.” God exposes just how dangerous the water can be. We know God can tame it—we’ve recently seen Jesus walking on the water. This time Jesus chooses to drown in it, to let it overtake him to show that he can take all we can possibly dish out and still love us, still gather us all in, still give us life. And Jesus shows us that the water is nothing to be afraid of. We can let it overtake us, too, because whether we live or die, we belong to God.

I wonder if we can let go of our fear of the past and all our baggage, to let a new thing happen. I wonder if we can let the past be drowned so that we can move into hope. I wonder if we can live in the moment of now to experience God with us in this moment.

Today, I invite you go on with worship in a different way. Forget you ever said any of these words in worship before. Forget the rules and the catechism you had to memorize in Confirmation. Forget you’ve ever sat in that pew or been in this church. Let all that history be drowned. Instead, experience the new thing that God is doing this moment. I invite you to be in this moment, as if experiencing God’s love and grace for the first time. I invite you to rise through the waters with Jesus and hear him say to you for the first time, “I love you.” And let that love help you shed your old life, let go of the past, and move forward in relationship with God and God’s people with hope.

March 10, 2013

Gospel : Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32
1st Reading: Joshua 5:9-12
Psalm 32
2nd Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

I read a story the other day on the Oregonlive website about a flamingo that is hanging out with a flock of ducks. It is probably an escaped pet. Now, whenever the flock of ducks takes off, the flamingo goes with them. It made me feel sad for the poor flamingo. Where does it belong? Will this flock be the closest thing to family it will ever know again? Does it know it isn’t a duck? Does it feel that kind of heartache we feel when we know we don’t belong?

That story and the prodigal son parable got me thinking about what it means to belong. Belonging is a theme all over the Bible, starting at the very beginning. God created the heavens and the earth because God didn’t want to be alone. God made humankind in God’s image and likeness so that we would know we belong to God. Then God created a partner for the first human, because it wasn’t good for the human to be alone. It seems that whole Genesis story is about what it means to belong, and testing the limits, and taking the consequences and feeling the brokenness and separation.

Separation is one of the most fundamental fears and pains we can deal with in life, and that, I think, is why it is addressed so early in the Bible. As Abram looked up at the stars, he wondered where he belonged and to whom, since he didn’t have any offspring. As the Israelites wandered in the wilderness they were exploring where they belonged and to what God. They experienced separation from the only life they knew and looked forward to a time when they would truly belong.

I sometimes think about Jesus’ childhood. Did he have a sense of belonging or being different? When did he realize that he saw the world differently from other people? Who did he feel closest to? Probably, like all of us, he experienced both belonging and alienation.

In today’s Gospel Jesus tells a story of disconnection, separation, pain, and loss as well as belonging, returning, welcoming, love, and joy. It is a story of family. It is a story about leaving and coming home.

There is so much pain in this story. Here is a son who has asked for his inheritance. He has asked something that was unheard of. He’s basically told his dad that he’s as good as dead—the son would like to act like the father is dead and receive his inheritance. Ouch! Then the son leaves. There is no other course to take. There is pain in every parting, even in a relationship that might have been adversarial like this probably was. The son is leaving. The father is left. It is hard. Later the son experiences hardship. He has to humble himself to come home to his dad and face the one he’s hurt and never expected to see again. And at the end a little more hurt is expressed, when the older brother expresses his jealousy and won’t come in to the party.

This story is not just full of lows, but takes the highs to the highest level. The son comes to himself, he comes to his senses. He finally sees the good that his father always intended, the means that his father has to care for him, even as a servant or slave. The son returns. He deserves to be rejected, but instead he is welcomed. His father comes running out of the house and embraces him and cries over him and kisses him. His father goes all out with a party—won’t even hear his confession, and offers him the best of everything he has in the world.

When I hear this story it is with a mix of joy and fear. I feel so happy to welcome and be welcomed. But I also feel fear that maybe the father is being taken for a ride—that he’s being taken advantage of. I am mostly the older the brother, in my own mind. I’ve done mostly what I was supposed to. My sister has been the prodigal son, lost custody of her children, burned her bridges, had her phone cut off, lost jobs, moved to other states with men she hardly knew. She is welcomed back every time, yet, now it is with a wary eye. We know the pattern. We love her dearly but we don’t want to see her get hurt and we don’t want to see her children get hurt. Then again, maybe she’s the flamingo in the family, who has the greatest adventures, and dreams the highest dreams while at the same time experiencing the feeling of being different and sometimes lost or hungry.

This story is called the prodigal son—prodigal meaning wasteful. But aren’t we talking more about the prodigal father—wasteful with his love? He just throws it around without giving it a thought. He just lavishes it all over the place without considering whether it could happen again or who his son has hurt or if his son will ever learn. It is the father who is wasteful in this story.

Yet, you can never run out of love. It isn’t like gold or money. It is just painful when you give love away and it is not returned. God showed just how much pain God could take on the cross—took on willingly to show how much love he has for us. When you give love, you open yourself up to pain, and that is a risk that God is willing to take and consequences God is willing to bear.

This story is about where we belong. The good news for today is that we belong with God. Whether we’ve wasted all the good things that God has given us, or run far away from God for a long time, or resent the kind of unconditional welcome that God provides, we are all welcome. We all belong.

The first reading is about belonging. The wandering is finally over. The Israelites are finally getting established—and they know it because they’ve been in one place long enough to cultivate the land. So they celebrate, finally arriving at a place where they belong by eating something, anything other than the manna they ate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the wilderness. Yes, it was the food God provided, but they were tired of it. It was meant to be a temporary solution for a people on the move, who didn’t belong anywhere, who were discovering who they belonged to by who provided their food. But after 40 years it must have seemed quite permanent. They thought they would never belong, but now they know they do. This new meal meant they finally were where they belonged and it must have tasted delicious at so many levels.

The second reading is also about belonging. Our human point of view has us putting people in categories, holding grudges, being broken and separate. But now we have Christ who is the father welcoming us all. Now that we all find ourselves at the party, we have to learn to get along—we get to learn to get along. Since we have the ministry of reconciliation, it will help us live as one in Christ despite our differences. Whether we are the wasteful the son or the bitter, jealous son, we get to grow in likeness to our father, and shower love lavishly, wastefully on all God’s children.

Are you more of a duck, in your flock, comfortable and content? Are you more an escaped flamingo, searching for where you belong? Are you waiting for those who you have lost to approach you? Are you willing to meet them at the gate? Will you stand outside the party of welcome, or will you accept the invitation to celebrate the unity and love we all share—the love of our prodigal God?