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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

July 14, 2013

Gospel: Luke 10:25-37
1st Reading: Deuteronomy 30:9-14
2nd Reading: Colossians 1:1-14

I remember a sticker on my grandparents’ motorhome, a red circle with a picture of a man with a halo. It said, “Good Sam’s Club!” I wondered what good deeds my grandparents had done to deserve being admitted to this exclusive group. I had no idea that anyone can purchase a membership that reduces the cost of staying at an RV park! The character of the Good Samaritan is so well known—it has been adopted into our culture. Everyone, Christian or not, knows what a “Good Samaritan” is. Google “Good Samaritan” and you’ll find hundreds of images and videos. There is Good Samaritan Hospital, of course. Anyone can be a good Samaritan, just by opening a door for someone or smiling at them or serving in a soup kitchen for a couple of hours.

I think the story of the Good Samaritan appeals to us, because we like to help and feel good about ourselves, not that there is anything wrong with that. But usually when I hear this story, I feel guilty. I think of this story almost every day when I pass someone on the street carrying a sign, pleading for money or food or work. I think to myself that I need to help that person, get to know that person. That’s what Jesus would do. That’s what Jesus calls me to do. Yet, day after day, again and again I don’t do it. I feel ashamed of myself. I feel ashamed of my country that we don’t provide the support people need to live. I judge, and say to myself, “They must have burned all their bridges not to have anybody to help them.” I feel guilty about my own inaction. I feel angry at our government which has abandoned the mentally ill. I feel helpless to make any real difference. I feel smug that our church has a pantry that at least does something to help people in our neighborhood. When I see a person who is suffering, I feel convicted of selfishness and greed which makes me feel even more guilty and afraid and even less likely to help. I get into this never-ending cycle.

In some ways the story of the Good Samaritan is so well known, that we can’t really see what’s going on. Let’s take a closer look at this interaction. This important man, this lawyer is asking a question of Jesus. “What can I do to inherit eternal life?” This is an “I” question about something personal to him. Certainly salvation is a question for individuals to work out for themselves. I can’t affect someone else’s salvation, can I?

Or can I? I know, when I get into my guilty, judgmental, and smug cycle I get focused on me again and I get stuck. Some have said selfishness is the root of sin—we make idols of ourselves. And when it is about me, it can be so isolating and helpless because I can do almost nothing by myself. So is the lawyer even asking the right question or a helpful question?

Jesus is moving all of us, this morning, from the “I” to the “we.” First he asks about the law. The law comes from outside ourselves and gives us rules to help us make good decisions. It takes us from a selfish question, to consider the opinions of others—toward the “we.” If I am seeking eternal life, or a good restaurant, or perfect teeth, it might be good to consult others, and even consult experts. The law is like the Angie’s List or E-How or Better Business Bureau—the expert on good ways to get things done. The law begins to take us from the selfishness and helplessness of the “I” to the wider view of the “we.”

The man knows just what the law says, to the letter. He has recited this since he was a child. He knows it forward and backward. But he wants more than a saying. Maybe he wants Jesus to tell him he’s a good person. Maybe he wants any onlookers to know how wise he is. Maybe part of him is really wondering who his neighbor is. Whatever the reason, he asks. “Who is my neighbor?” It is easy to see neighbor as immediate family and friends. It is easy to see the person living on each side of you as neighbor. The smaller we draw the circle, the more likely we’re going to be able to actually do the loving thing.

What Jesus does is expand the circle wider than any of his audience would have expected. It is hard for us to imagine. What would be the equivalent today? A muslim in a hijab is walking by and is the one to come to the rescue, a biker in drag is the one to stop and help, an undocumented immigrant who doesn’t speak English is the one to come to the aid of the person in the ditch, a teenager, an old person in a wheelchair—all these would have been about as expected as the Samaritan. These are my neighbors.

This story invites us to play each part in the story. In one instance we might play one part and in another instance, we might play another, but the point is there are multiple roles and each depends on the other.

I feel guilt and fear and smugness, when I put myself in the role of the people who walk by uncaringly. I am that person plenty of the time. But sometimes I am the person who stops to help. When I think of times I have been able to come to the rescue, I feel deep joy welling up. I feel tears of thanksgiving that I was at the right place at the right time.

And when I think of times I was in the ditch, I feel an immense sense of thankfulness that someone stopped to help me, even at their extreme inconvenience.

I get to be three people at once rather than just one. In this way the story invites us to go from the “I” to the “we.” It gets at the complexity that we face as people, our mixed motives, our mixed experiences of power and vulnerability, our mixed emotions when faced with choices.

This story reminds us that salvation (another word for healing) is not about me. I depend on others for help. Eternal life is not about me. My life depends on other people. It always has and it always will.

The life of the man in the ditch depended on his neighbors. Literally he needed pulled out of the ditch and cared for or he would have died.

The life of the priest and Levite that pass by depend also on their neighbors. Were they really living when they passed by? The laws of the time would have dictated that they don’t go anywhere near a corpse, which is what they may have truly believed they were seeing. Likewise, you’re not going to see me approaching any naked, bloody, men in ditches. At least, I can call 911 on my cell phone now, which they didn’t have the chance to do then. But how many people do I pass by on a daily basis, because I have a schedule to keep, people to see, meetings to attend, and better things to do? Is that really living? Is that really doing my job as a pastor, as a neighbor?

This story reminds us why we’re here. We’re here to show mercy. We’re here to spread love and healing (salvation). Our schedules and routines are supposed to help us do that, not get in the way of that.

Ultimately, this story is about what Jesus does for us. We are the ones in the ditch. We’ve been left for dead by our own doing and sin, by mean people, by the natural course of events. Others in our lives have failed us. They have walked on by, or even pushed us in. It is Jesus who walks into our lives and comes to our aid. He is a stranger. We have rejected him. He’s not like us. He’s that biker, that teenager, that Middle Eastern man that we’ve written off and walked past any number of times. Surprisingly, the ones we’ve relied on pass on by, but he’s the one who stops and renders aid at great personal expense to him. Not only does he pull us out of that ditch, but he gets us the help we need, turns our life around, and pays the full bill for complete healing.

Eternal life—we think of it as heaven that we will go to after we die. I’ve heard it said many times, eternal life starts today. It has no beginning and no end. Maybe it would better be called “unlimited life.” How can I inherit unlimited life? I can’t. You can’t. Unlimited means it has to go beyond you and me. It doesn’t stop. How can we inherit unlimited life? As Christians, we know it comes through Jesus Christ and his gifts. It takes me and you, it takes Jesus. And it doesn’t stop there. Just as Jesus reached out to us in the ditches, unlimited life goes beyond us to those in even deeper the ditches. When we remember how we have been helped and saved by others and by the grace and mercy of God, we can reach out to others in the ditches, not from a sense of guilt and shame, but out of a sense of gratefulness and joy for all God has done for us.

July 7, 2013

Gospel: Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
1st Reading: Isaiah 66:10-14
2nd Reading: Galatians 6:1-16

About 20 years ago Bette Midler had a hit song “From a Distance.” The refrain stated that “God is watching us from a distance.” There were some nice things about that song. It isn’t often that such an outwardly religious song shows up on the radio and the hit charts. The song was about what distance does, and that is to blur our differences, to help us see the big picture. One of the best lines of the song says, “From a distance, you look like my friend, even though we are at war.”

God, who created the universe, who has always existed and always will, who gave order to our world, must be distant, right? God is so much bigger, so much more powerful, so much more glorious than we can imagine. God must be far away from us puny little people.

At a youth event when I was a teenager, the group “Captive Free” performed that Bette Midler song. Although the song did have something to say, I felt that that it was missing some important theology that I hold dear. Yes, God sees the big picture. Yes, God holds us together in one family. God is bigger than all the universe and our comprehension. But God is also very near, which is the theme for today’s Gospel reading. The main job of Jesus’ disciples was to declare how close God’s Kingdom really is. We are disciples, too, and that is our job—to announce how near God’s Kingdom is.

Both my dad and my husband’s dad were in the military when we were little—far from home. I recently learned that our mothers both audio-taped us as toddlers chattering away to send to our grandmothers, so that they could have a taste of what it was like to be near. Many of you have experienced family scattered all over the US and in other countries, too. It used to be that all that you could do in a situation like that was write letters. Sometimes there were weeks between letters as you waited for them to arrive and then for the reply to come.

A year and a half ago my brother moved to Indiana to take a job. The rest of the family lives in Oregon, although spread from Medford, to the coast, to past La Grande. That’s a big reason we wanted to move back to Oregon—to be near family. It has been hard to have my brother so far away. Since he moved away, Sterling was born and my brother’s family added a little daughter who is now 4 months old. We really feel the distance between us.

So if distance isn’t good for family, how could it be for God? When we feel a distance between us and someone else, that is never good. When we push someone away, that never has a positive connotation. So why would it be good for God to watch us from a distance?

My brother and his family are visiting Oregon this month and I saw them last weekend. My nephews, although they live far away and haven’t seen me in almost two years, knew me instantly. It was because of Skype—video chat over the computer. Do some of you Skype with loved ones who live far away? Sometimes there is a delay with Skype, a little jerkiness, eye contact is impossible, sometimes we struggle with the sound or picture, but it brings us so much closer than a letter could. You hear the sound of their voice, see their body language, show each other books or toys. My mom reads to her grandchildren over Skype. My husband’s parents play peek-a-boo with Sterling. One time when the baby lost interest in Skyping, I laid him on the bed and blew bubbles over him and Nick’s parents just watched in wonder while he giggled and went wild with delight.

Yes, God is big and amazing and far away. But God is in everything and closer to us than we are to ourselves. God knows us intimately, has a count of the hairs on our head, and knows our joys and sorrows deeply and dearly. The Bible is about God approaching closer and closer, or maybe it is only our awareness that is changing. Abraham and Sarah have God over for dinner. Jacob wrestles with God—that is very close. Moses gets so close to God he has to take off his shoes and hide his eyes. The prophets were always reminding the people that God is in the poor and the stranger. God is always trying to show how close God is to us.

Finally, God was born into this world, to a teen mom, in a world that didn’t want him. Jesus grew up in this world, just like we did. He walked in our shoes. He had disappointments and heartbreak. He enjoyed life, too.

But there are a lot of people who are invested in there being distance between us and God. When God is close to people and people know that, we become empowered and stand up for the oppressed. Plenty of people thrive on the oppression of others and are threatened by that kind of cooperation and unity. If people knew God was close by and our divisions fell away, we wouldn’t have a need for a criminal justice system. People would be out of work.

When we know that God is close by, that brings us close to each other. When we are united in love, everyone will be fed and there are plenty of people who thrive in this world because others go hungry. I’m sure you can think of world leaders who manipulate people by their distribution of food. When people are united the world is changed and that is very scary for those invested in the world as it is. As long as people are divided, there will be things we can’t accomplish. When people are united in love, other people will be threatened.

In some way we are all invested in the world as it is. If there is healing on a massive scale, who would I go visit in the hospital? If you knew how close God was and that you had all the access you needed without any special words or years of study, I would be back working in an optometry shop. If neighbors cared for each other and shared all they had, we wouldn’t need the pantry anymore, and all these people who come together and work so hard, wouldn’t have anything to do. It is a problem I’d be happy for us to have.

Jesus came near and comes near all the time. God’s reign comes near and touches us all the time. It is a matter of us noticing God coming near in each bite we eat, in each interaction we have, in each cloud, raindrop, blade of grass, and weed, everyday in our mistakes and successes, in opportunities to serve and be served, in every word we speak and hear, in every hope, and especially in every person we meet. We are the ones who push God away. God is always drawing us closer and showing us just how near we are to God. And if near to God, then near to each other.

We in small congregations occasionally get to feeling sorry for ourselves that more people don’t come to our church. Remember Jesus appoints and sends out the seventy into every town. Jesus sends us out from here. Our job is not to get people into our pews or into our church, but to go out to them announcing peace and the nearness of God through healing, welcoming, taking risks, and loving.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

June 30, 2013

Gospel: Luke 9:51-62
1st Reading: 1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21
2nd Reading: Galatians 5:1, 13-25

The birds of the air were asleep in their nests, and the bullfrogs croaking pleasantly in the lake at Camp Odyssey. The campers had a safe place to lay their heads, while the staff sat up to make sure there was no sneaking out. It was Friday evening, the last night of camp. If anyone was going to sneak out, this would be the time. This was their last chance to connect with that special love interest of 36 hours. This was their time to bond. This was their chance to test the limits now that they had been empowered. So the staff was anxious, and tired. We had our eyes on the prize—getting the campers safely through the week, even slightly more aware and open than when they arrived, rested and ready to go home in the morning. Nothing would stop us on our mission.

It was 2:30 am. I stood at the door of the bathroom arguing with four youth leaders who were supposed to be in bed. They needed a drink of water. The sound of the walkie talkies we were carrying on patrol were keeping them up. Why wouldn’t we let them sleep on their cabin porches? The adults were using their adult privilege to oppress the youth. Why wouldn’t we trust them? And on and on until I finally gave up and went to bed, knowing the next patrol would be by in 20 minutes to continue the conversation, there weren’t any boys around, and I was dead tired and needed to drive back to Portland the next day.

Eyes on the prize—that’s where Jesus is at in today’s Gospel reading. Only the prize doesn’t consist of him getting to sleep in his own bed, eat familiar food, and water his garden. This is the home stretch, the last lap for him as he heads for the cross.

I don’t think he’s complaining about his own discomfort—about not having a place to rest or belong. Believe me, the camp staff complained—good naturedly for the most part but maybe less so as the week progressed. But Jesus points out that this journey is not about his own comfort. He’s not here to lay his head down, or eat good food, or get recognition, or put his feet up. He’s here to serve. He’s here to teach about love and show love. He’s here to heal and feed and treat people like people no matter if they matter to anyone else. And this last lap is leading, not to a glorious finish, with cheering crowds and pretty girls. This race is leading him toward death, toward the cross, toward suffering.

A soft pillow and warm meal would be a distraction for him at this moment. He is focused. He is disciplined. He’s got one thing on his mind and that is to complete this journey, to take the worst of what human beings can dish out, to become the most despised all because people couldn’t handle how freely he offered love and compassion.

We are all on this same journey. It is easy to get distracted. When one is plowing a furrow, one look back and the row becomes crooked and throws off the whole rest of the field. It is like trying to drive while looking in your rearview mirror. Do any of us ever focus too much on the past. The past can inform us. We’d never be where we are without it. Yet we can get obsessed with the past and forget we are living in the present. We can carry regrets and pains we never healed. We can misremember the past and dwell there. We can impose our ideas of the past onto the present and try to make the present into the past. That is all futile. Jesus moves forward this morning, even though the future isn’t looking too bright at all, even though he must surely feel like giving up. He has his eye on the prize. The scene is set, the dominoes are already falling. There is no going back.

We are all on this journey with Jesus as his followers. When opportunities for service or sacrifice present themselves, it is easy to make excuses. “Little ol’ me?” Moses said, “But I have a speech impediment. You can’t expect me to lead the people.” Others say, “I am too busy already.”

We’d like to think that following Jesus would be easy, make life easy, make us rich, keep our loved ones from harm. But our journey, too, leads to the cross. We encounter it every day. Sometimes we do it to ourselves—increase our own pain, sAY things we regret, push other people away, etc. Sometimes it is completely random—an accident, A disease, a natural disaster. Sometimes we do all the right things and still we don’t see a better world.

At some point, Jesus says, we have to take a risk. We have to get out of our comfort zone, forsake our own pillow, our familiar role, our easy life, in order to really live. Sometimes that happens by choice. We Accept responsibility in a different way than we ever have before. We try something new out of curiosity, or out of a sense of duty, or because we want to learn and grow in a new way. Sometimes we do it because we’re forced to in a time of illness, or unemployment, or other upheaval in our lives.

Jesus encourages us not to make excuses. You have other priorities? Re-evaluate them now and then to make sure they are really giving you life. Don’t sign up to help with the same thing year after year just because that’s always what you have done. Ask yourself if it puts you on your path to the cross, to going through a little discomfort in order to learn and grow, whether it brings you closer to strangers, whether it is about love rather than recognition, whether it has the potential to open you more to others—to make you more compassionate and loving.

Jesus is saying don’t get distracted. One person in the Gospel has a funeral to attend. That sounds pretty important. He isn’t saying that wasn’t important. He’s saying that you can always think of one more important thing you’re doing that will keep you from your path. Another has someone to say goodbye to. There is always someone else to bid goodbye to. At some point, we need to lay those things Aside and get moving on our journey of faith.

However we might drag our feet, make excuses, argue with ourselves or God, Jesus moved forward to the cross to give us the freedom to dawdle and the freedom to move ahead. Like those campers standing in the bathroom At 3 am, we have a choice whether to get with the program. And Jesus responds in a very different way than I did that night. Jesus responds with grace. Jesus meets us where we are And respects where we are. Jesus shows us that we aren’t stuck where we are, but there is more to life. Jesus invites us someplace new—both scary and amazing.

Jesus’ journey was finally a matter of where he would lay his head, and that is in our hearts. Not that little Jesus we imagine when we are children, sitting inside us, but God’s love, God’s compassion, God’s generosity residing in our hearts And showing up in our words and actions.

The second to last day at camp we threw the ball around and whoever caught it said something they learned that week. Kevin was in my small group. He was in the foster care system and had been in trouble with the law. His friend had recently taken his own life. He had trouble engaging all week. But when he caught the ball he said, “I learned I can change my community.” I almost started crying. For a boy with so many troubles to get it like that and to be able to show that he got it was more than I could ask for. I hope that lives were changed for the better this week at camp—in fact, I know they were. That’s what Jesus hopes for today, too. Keep eyes on the prize, persevere to the finish, until God resides in all hearts and we form a community of caring and love.

June 16, 2013

Gospel: Luke 7:36-8:3
1st Reading: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15
2nd Reading: Galatians 2:15-21

Sterling’s feet have been growing again. Last year we received hand-me-downs from several different people and I put the next size shoes in a box under his bed. They tell you not to put hand-me-down shoes on your kid—I guess it can mess up the shape of their feet or something. I think that’s just a ploy to get people to buy more shoes unnecessarily. They only wear them for a few months so it takes several kids to wear them out! So on Thursday we got out the new-to-us shoes and tried them on. I walked with Sterling around the house a few times to make sure they were a good fit and that he wouldn’t trip in them and off he went. He gets to spend the next few months walking in someone else’s shoes.

And that’s the theme of the readings for today. Of course, it isn’t about literal shoes. It is about seeing life through someone else’s eyes, experiencing what they experience, learning from another point of view, and having compassion on other people rather than judging them.

In the first reading, David covets Bathsheba, sends her man to the front lines where he is killed, and takes what he wants, Uriah’s wife. David wants something. He has the power to get it. He arranges events to get what he wants. He is trying to play God.

God is displeased. Yikes! It reminds me of the times my mom would say, “Wait ‘till your father gets home.” That was a terrible feeling. But God isn’t waiting to scold David or put him in the corner or ground him or even lecture him. God tells David a story. David, through the story, can see clearly what is going on. Before, he had been blinded by his greed, his privilege, his power. All he could see was what he didn’t have. The story is disarming. It stripped away all the things blinding David so he could put himself in the shoes of the poor man and see things through his eyes. David identifies with God’s anger and gives the rich man in the story the death penalty. He pronounces capital punishment on himself.

“Ah ha!” says Nathan, “It is you we’re really talking about! God is saying to you, look at all I’ve given you and still you don’t appreciate it. You still take what doesn’t belong to you and commit murder to get it.” What can David do, but agree? He did play God, by using power to make things happen. But only God can be God, because God is never motivated by selfishness and greed, but only by love for the good of everyone.

David admits his mistake. He puts himself in the poor man’s position in relation to God. He can see that he did something that separates him from God, that separates him from others. He did something that wasn’t loving. He sinned. He comes running back to God.

A lot of people wonder how someone as corrupt and awful and sinful as David, could have been God’s favorite. Yet, as much as David screws up, he keeps up his relationship with God. He doesn’t deny his mistakes. He tries to do better. He keeps working on it with God. It is like a good marriage. It doesn’t mean that two people don’t do things that are unloving and stupid and even make huge mistakes. The marriage works because they come to each other and admit it and work on it and try to do better.

David humbles himself. He may be the richest, most powerful man in the kingdom, but next to God, he’s the poor man. He’s the one with one lamb. He’s the one who is powerless. He is depending on God’s compassion and mercy and pity to restore the relationship and to continue his life.

We’ve had some really fun parallel stories between the Old Testament and the Gospel, lately. Last week it was the parallel healing stories with the sons being restored to their mothers. Remember, the Old Testament does have a lot to offer and it was the scripture that Jesus knew and was working from.

The Gospel is a very similar story. We’ve got a rich, powerful man, not unlike David. He’s a religious man. You’d think he’d be paying attention to God in his midst. He’s got Jesus at his dinner table, and he doesn’t even appreciate him.

Now the next part is a little bit different. He’s too busy judging the way another person shows her love and care to Jesus. He is scandalized by her behavior. She’s uncovered her hair. She’s sobbing uncontrollably. She’s getting her tears all over Jesus. She’s interrupting their very important dinner. She’s touching Jesus very intimately. Yuck! This is inappropriate behavior.

Jesus isn’t waiting to punish the rich man for being jealous or not welcoming him like this woman does. Like, the story of David, Jesus tells a story that disarms the man. It takes the focus off the Pharisee’s needs and prejudices and helps him see clearly the situation. The story helps the man stop judging and put himself in her shoes. It helps him look at all she’s been through. Then Jesus does read him the riot act to help him to see what is appropriate. Is the man’s distant, dignified behavior appropriate, seeing what all God’s done for him? Or is it more appropriate to be like the woman, seeking out Jesus, coming prepared with fancy oils, washing his feet, using her own hair to dry them, pouring out tears of thanks. The Pharisee becomes the poor one—poor in welcome and poor in thanks. The “sinner” becomes the one rich in thanks and praise and generosity.

Think of what Jesus did for us. God might have seemed so distant, up there somewhere handing down rules, punishing and judging. But God came as Jesus to walk in our shoes and to show that God really knows our struggles and joys and longings. We have God who walks in our shoes everyday in the poor and the grieving and the hungry. He didn’t abandon those shoes when the going got hard, but walked the extra mile, even giving his life on the cross for us.

Really we are people of privilege. We have been given so much, and live pretty comfortable lives. In the story we play the part of King David and of the Pharisee. Plenty of times we have looked at life in terms of what more we want and how we are going to get it. Sometimes we look at people who are more demonstrative with their emotions and say to ourselves that we’ve got it all together or at least we’ll keep up the appearance of having it all together. But Jesus is pulling the great reversal on us. He’s asking us to humble ourselves and really remember that we don’t create all our blessings—they are from God. Just because we have the power to acquire almost anything we want, doesn’t mean we should. Instead he reminds us that we, too, are sinners. Not to beat us over the head about it, but to help us to remember to live lives of gratitude and to put our hope in what really lasts and brings the world together and that is love.

On Father’s Day, it is good to reflect on the kind of Father God is. God is hands-on, walking with, teaching through stories, helping us reflect and see ourselves and each other more clearly, forgiving, and loving so that we would grow in grace and love and build up the family of God.

Paul says in the letter to the Galatians, “It is no longer I that live, but Christ in me.” Christ is walking in my shoes. It is my job to walk in other people’s shoes and learn compassion and pity and love and mercy.

June 9, 2013

Gospel: Luke 7:11-17
1st Reading: 1 Kings 17:17-24
2nd Reading: Galatians 1:11-24

Summer is the time to send your kid to camp. I’ve been to camp Lutherwood, outdoor school, Holden Village, and Camp Odyssey. Somehow these camps get jumbled up in my mind, but I remember several of them having kitchens with doors clearly marked “In” and “Out.” One door is if you are clearing tables and heading in with dirty dishes, empty pitchers, etc. The other door is if you are heading out with lots of good food that you don’t want spilled when people are coming the other direction with dirty dishes. I never had trouble remembering which door to go out. However there were a few times when I went in the out door and could have caused quite a mess if it had been at the wrong time. Thankfully my timing was good, which is more than I can say for some who have gone in the out door.

Today, in the Gospel story, there aren’t such clear paths. Jesus is walking with a group of disciples plus a large curious crowd. As they got closer to the city almost to the gate, they ran straight into a crowd going the opposite direction. Isn’t this just like Jesus? It seems he can never go anywhere without going against the flow, running into someone and getting side-tracked from his original course. Yet isn’t that was Jesus is here to do—get off track, go against the flow, wake up the comfortable people, and comfort all sorts of outsiders and poor people and grieving people.

There are these two crowds going different directions and the run right into each other. One is the disciples, maybe talking or singing, probably dirty from their trip, trudging up to this town. They were probably looking forward to getting some rest, some food and beginning to heal people and share the good news of God’s presence. And they run into this funeral procession. There was probably lots of wailing and displaying grief. The mourners might be dressed in sackcloth or veils or other signs of mourning. Can you imagine the chaos as they each try to go their different directions—all these people mixed up together? Each group has something they need to do and have to untangle themselves to get on with it.

In the middle of all this, Jesus notices someone—the mother. There might not have been anything to distinguish her from the rest, I don’t know. But Jesus knew. Maybe it was the grief she held—her pain that he noticed. She’s carrying a heavy burden. No husband, no son, all these people around her, yet she’s alone in the world. No one can understand her profound sadness. She has nothing. Sure, all these people are with her today, but her family support system is gone. Once she is done grieving, she will have no way of supporting herself and she will die of hunger or prostitute herself to support herself. Her life is over, either way.

Everyone else is carrying on around her. Jesus speaks to her. He tells her not to cry. I don’t advise this as a way of comforting someone who is mourning. You have to let them have their tears. He doesn’t say it because he is uncomfortable with her crying. He says it because there is no reason for crying. He is ready to restore this son to his mom. He will restore her primary relationship, her means of support, her future, her place in community—everything. This kind of healing is going to be complete.

She doesn’t touch his cloak. He doesn’t spit in her eye. He touches the casket. The Gospel says, everything went quiet. Jesus, a holy man, a clean man, touched a casket, which would have made him unclean, a potential carrier of whatever disease the son had died of. He’s broken through a barrier and gone against the flow again. And everyone gasps and stops talking. Jesus then commands the body to live again, for the spirit to enter it again, and rise. The dead man sat up, started talking, and Jesus presented him to his mother. It was for the mother’s life that Jesus restored this man. Imagine the shock when Jesus touched the casket, the screams when the man sat up, the absolute attention the man commanded when he started talking, and the cheers that were raised to God who got the credit on this one.

Two groups meet, two people meet unexpectedly, they clash going about their own business, but they have to interact for a moment while they try to get past each other or point out the sign of the in and out doors. In the first reading today, the widow is ready for Elijah to start pointing out her sin when her son dies. Blaming the victim is another unhealthy response to grief. We think if we explain it, it could never happen to us. She must have done something to deserve losing her son. It is so easy to heap burdens on people who already carry so many burdens. But Elijah isn’t about to do that. He also goes against the flow—the normal course. He didn’t get defensive, he got to work. He took her burdens on himself, physically carrying her dead child to a quiet corner where he could pray, bringing him back to life, and just like Jesus did, present him to his mother for her complete restoration of relationship, life, breath, spirit, future, community, everything.

Paul was a privileged man. He was given everything in life. And he spent the first part of it, increasing the burden on the vulnerable. He picked on people it was easy to pick on. He was trying to go about his daily life of making miserable people more miserable, when he ran smack into God on the road. God and God’s people could have made his life miserable and returned to him what he had done to others. Instead, God’s people took him in and nursed him back to health, included him in worship and community, and gave him a new life.

As Christians, we run into unexpected people and situations all the time. I know I get in a hurry sometimes and forget to stop and notice what is really going on. Jesus invites us to see those times and ministry situations. Notice who is hurting. Notice who is most vulnerable. What we do from there is key. It is so easy to heap more burdens on those who are suffering and blame them.

I want to share with you a couple of examples from my own life. There have been times when I have delivered food to a hungry family and smelled cigarette smoke and started the blame game. If they didn’t buy cigarettes, could they afford food? One time when I really reached out to share their burden and get to know them, I found out they once had a drug addiction, and smoking was a huge improvement over that. Who am I to heap more burdens on those already burdened?

I have sometimes stereotyped teenagers and judged them, heaping burdens on them instead of being the safety net they need. As soon as I sit down with one of them, I find myself amazed at their maturity, their drive to persevere, their wisdom and insight. I find myself a student at their feet, learning about their hopes and dreams and visions for a better world than the one I’ve helped build.

Jesus asks us to help one another carry our burdens. Share words and actions of healing. Include everyone in community. Become a safety net for those who have no safety net. Share food with the hungry. Visit the sick and those in prison. Go out against the flow to those at the gates, on the fringes, at the skate park, at the pantry, on the bus. Don’t be afraid to bump into all kinds of people, take a moment to recognize a fellow human being there, move beyond judgment to relationship, and find your burdens lightened as well as theirs and healing and spirit and new life.

May 26, 2013

Gospel: John 16:12-15
1st Reading: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Psalm 8
2nd Reading: Romans 5:1-5

What a glorious account of the creation story, we hear in the reading from Proverbs this morning! We can look out the window and see what is being described—the mountains, the sky, the soil, the fountains. God created all this with Wisdom present. It wasn’t just a haphazard creation, but it was ordered. Everything had its place. Everything depended on everything else. Everything had its boundary and its purpose. The lines were clear.

In the Gospel of John, we find Jesus there at creation, too. “In the beginning was the word.” Did you know that in this case “word” is from the same root as the word “logic” showing the order in creation. “Word” partly means “promise” like when someone says “I give you my word” and it refers to Jesus. “And the word was with God. And the word was God.” This is Holy Trinity Sunday. The concept of the Trinity comes from the earliest Biblical stories. God the creator was there at the beginning, along with the word that God spoke as each part of creation came into being, Jesus, and Wisdom, as well making creation that is interdependent and balanced.

The Trinity can be very confusing. It doesn’t have easily distinguishable lines. I am not going to turn to the next sheet on this drawing pad and draw you the Trinity, because I don’t know how. I can draw a shamrock or three intersecting hoops, but those images barely scratch the surface of what the Trinity is. Humans have always wanted to explain their world and their experiences. We can draw creation, for the most part. But there are things in life we cannot explain well or draw well, and so we have mysterious words like “Trinity.” We have one God, who comes to us in so many different ways—in Creation, in our questioning and imaginative minds, in our moments of glory, and in times of great suffering. We have one God, who created us, is one of us, and who is always communicating with us. We have one God who is our Father, our Brother, and our best Advocate. We have one God who made us, walks with us, and sustains us. How do we explain the complex, relational, God and how God can appear to us in all these forms and perform all these functions for us and with us? We call it “Trinity.” It is a human word. It is imperfect to describe all that God is, yet that’s the word we use—the best we’ve got.

And really, we are starting to see that the universe is not so easily divided by lines of mountains and dirt and water. Something so simple as air—we can’t see it. But we are starting to understand that something that pollutes the air here can travel elsewhere and damage creation on the other side of the globe. I think of wildfires a few years ago in Idaho and even further away in Texas, and how our air quality suffered here, so that the sky was sooty and orange at certain times of the day. I think of our water quality and the question of whether coal trains from the middle of the country will dump enough coal dust along the way to affect people in our state, to pollute our water, not to mention what happens when that coal goes to China and is burned and we all suffer the consequences. Even this stream here on this picture I’ve drawn, brings parts of the mountain down with it. What is the mountain and what is the stream bed? It is all interconnected. Even strangers who sit next to each other on a park bench or a church pew will start to share similar brain waves. We have these lines and categories, and they are comforting, yet we all influence and have an affect on each other. Like the Trinity, we are more than can be drawn. There are layers and layers of complexity and interrelatedness that are just being discovered and remain mysterious.

When I was about 4 years old, I remember coloring with my mom. The lines in the book did not extend to the edge of the page, I remember, but my mom still colored to the edge of the page. Remember that 4-year-olds are very literal thinkers. To me, she had colored outside the lines. I was coloring a picture of two flowers. I remember that I, then, colored between the two flowers, to imitate my mom. She expressed her disappointment that I hadn’t stayed in the lines. I pointed out that neither had she. She probably had no idea what I was talking about.

Did you notice on our bulletin cover how someone has colored outside the lines, and yet it is really a beautiful picture? I think it shows that there is order in our world, boundaries, definitions that help us. And there are surprises, spontaneity, and beauty beyond staying in the lines.

Think of the Ten Commandments. Those are lines drawn for good order and for community. Then Jesus comes along and heals on the Sabbath. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it Holy.” He broke a commandment. He colored outside the lines. He pointed out that the lines are not what matters, but the spirit of the rules. The spirit was of love and balance. If the lines keep us from doing the loving thing, we must color outside them and create an even more beautiful picture of interrelationship and community.

But sometimes when you draw outside the lines it doesn’t end up being beautiful. That is what grace and forgiveness is for. We have hope, that even if our drawings are messy, our plans for doing the loving thing fail, our love rejected, and our lives full of suffering of our own doing or foist upon us—even those things cannot keep us from the love of God. That is so hopeful. We can keep trying to share the good news in ways that people can understand, going outside of what we know and have tried in the past, knowing a lot of the time it may not translate, but also knowing that we learn from every attempt, and that God’s grace and love will have the last word.

God drew all these lines in creation to help us navigate our way and to help us know God and be faithful. Over and over again God broke through those lines to help us. Again and again, God intervened to help God’s people find their way. The line between God and humans was a thick line. Yet, God spoke to Abraham and the prophets to help us remember to care for each other—that the lines between us might not be as strong as we imagined. Care for the stranger, because you were once strangers. Care for the orphan—that could have been you. Care for the hungry—it is in all our best interest. Free your servants—you were once servants in Egypt. Share what you have—your stuff only draws lines between you and others.

God colored outside the lines in a big way in Jesus. God broke the through the boundary between heaven and earth and became our brother. We found that we are the same. God is not so far away. God gets it. God is here. We both have feelings. We both suffer. We both enjoy life and partying. We know what it is like to disappoint our parents. We both have gifts to share and abilities to help our neighbor. We have connections that can never be severed. We are one with God and God with us and therefore we are one with our neighbor and God’s creation—everything is interconnected and has unity and relationship. In suffering, we are one. We know that God has not forsaken suffering, but embraced it and made new life out of it. That’s why we can have hope even when we are hurting. Even in death, we are one. Life continues and love continues.

Jesus says, “I have more to say to you. I will continue to communicate with you even after I am gone.” Jesus is breaking through that line again, coloring outside the lines. God is always speaking to us, revealing God’s-self to us in new ways, guiding us by the Holy Spirit to be more loving and generous. God is always revealing God’s self in creation, which we are learning our well-being is completely tied to, and learning not to draw dividing lines with.

Let’s color outside the lines! Let’s feed people who may not deserve it. Let’s be generous with people who are greedy and nice to people who are mean. Let’s yield the right of way to the angry driver, let the person with 30 items go through the express checkout line, and smile at the person who sings off key. Let’s walk more of the places we need to go and smell the flowers on the way there. Let’s be late for meetings because we are busy spending time with a child or an elderly person. Let’s lift our hands to God in prayer even if other people think we are weird. Coloring outside the lines is part of what it means to be a child of God. Let God’s messy colors brighten your world and show you things you never noticed before.