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Thursday, March 27, 2014

March 23, 2014

1st Reading: Exodus 17:1-7
2nd Reading: Romans 5:1-11
Gospel: John 4:5-42

The waters flow down from the mountains as the snow melts, through creeks and rivers to the sea. The water evaporates from the lakes and rivers and from the puddles and the sea, back into the air to become clouds, only to rain or snow again and again upon us, making the cycle over and over to refresh the earth and bring water to people and animals and plants, to distribute this water over the whole earth.

The water brings life. It nourishes all of us. We take a drink of water. It flows through our veins—our blood is about 50% water. Our veins are so much like the network of rivers and streams that deliver our water. Our arteries and veins and capillaries, deliver this life-giving water to all our cells to give us life, and they carry the waste back out again, back to the earth to nourish new life. It flows through the roots and leaves of plants, to flowers and fruits.

God’s Spirit goes out from the breath of God, to the universe, to the earth, to give life to all. This breath gives motion to the universe, balance to the earth, life to the plants, animation to the animals, and awareness to humankind. It f lows along paths like the waterways and veins to bring blessing and life to all.

Sometimes there are disruptions. Sometimes there are droughts or floods, a blocked artery, or frightened people who stand in the way of the Water and the Spirit. The woman at the well knows intimately the blockages that people put up that keep others from having abundant life and living water.

She and Jesus have a long conversation, this morning. Jesus surprises her by even speaking to her in the first place. He’s already ignoring the road block that keeps men and women who aren’t related from speaking to each other in public, when he asks her for a drink of water. Now she points out the next road block, that she is a Samaritan and he a Jew. These two kinds of people don’t talk to each other. He is ignoring the next blockage.

The woman is just getting excited about this living water, when Jesus reminds her of one of the blockages—he asks her to go get her husband. The Covenant of the Jews is forged with the men. They “cut a covenant.” They circumcise. That is the way you know you’ve got the right religion, that you are a part of the network of rivers or veins that bring you the blessing of God. The woman doesn’t have a man to link her in with the network of blessing. She has no husband. She doesn’t hide what would certainly have been shameful and Jesus knew it already and doesn’t shame her or blame her.

She must have realized in that moment that he knew all along, and yet he talked to her as an equal. Jesus saw her and knew her story, and still talked to her about religion and the roadblocks in her life. Nobody else was doing that for her. That is probably why she was at the well at noon. The other women would have all gone early in the morning and gossiped and chit chatted all the way, but it looks like they had excluded her from their women’s circle. Now she goes to the well at a different time and she is all alone in the world. But here is a person who knows and yet will speak to her, and not only speak to her but have a deep conversation about human need and how you get that need fulfilled and how you convey it.

God created this world with a vision for beauty and balance and the flow of water, Spirit, and life and free will. We took things in another direction and blocked that flow out of fear and greed. Now Jesus is back to restore that vision. Whatever the values of this world, Jesus is going to live the values and vision of God. He simply ignores our rules that put up barriers between people and live the vision that God has in mind. Through Jesus’ conversation with this scorned woman, Jesus creates a world where men and women talk freely, where people really see each other and relate to each other, and where healing takes place.

Jesus isn’t the only one who has the vision. The woman professes a hope in the Messiah. She is looking for a better world, too. After all the stumbling blocks that people put in front of her, still she hopes that they will not keep her from the hope and promise of the Messiah that everything will be clearer than ever.

This is the most clear Jesus ever is about his being the Messiah. “I am he.” He uses the same words that God uses as the Burning Bush when Moses asks what God’s name is. “I am who I am,” answers God. “I am he,” answers Jesus. They are the same.

Have we caught the vision? I have been standing in a place of pain and frustration over the past few months, that I have often expressed to you Sunday mornings. It is easy to envision a world in which the last bee dies or the last fish and we are left fighting and hiding and living in a post-apocalyptic world. However, God has a beautiful vision for this world where there will be no more weeping and the lion will lie down with the lamb and we were encouraged to tap into our vision for this world. I have to say it is a beautiful and hopeful thing. God brings about God’s vision through us and creates the world that we see in our deepest longing.

Because of God’s vision and our deepest longing, we can throw off any roadblocks keeping us from Jesus. He is ignoring them, first. Nothing can keep us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. We can use our new life to remove dams and road blocks and clogs so that God’s love flows to those who never knew it before because they were behind so many layers of debris.

When one part of this broken world changes, it is bound to have beautiful ripple effects in the water. The woman leaves her water jar. She leaves the vessel she was using to come get water to quench her thirst temporarily, and becomes the vessel of God’s grace bringing the good news to the people of her village. Can you imagine how that conversation went? “He knew me. He saw me. He spoke to me. He gave me the most wonderful gift. He made me a vessel of Spirit. Can he be the Messiah?”

Something changed so that the people saw her, listened to her, knew her, trusted her. Maybe it was that her story changed. She was no longer just the black widow whose husbands kept mysteriously dying one after the other, or the one with several failed marriages. She was someone who had something valuable to share with the community, connection with God. She was someone who had been honored by someone important. The Messiah might have spoken to her. If he spoke to her and saw her, maybe he would see me and speak to me, despite my shortcomings, brokenness, and so forth.

What is clogging up our vessel? What is standing between this broken world and God’s dream for this world. What stands between our current reality of destruction and our deepest longings that come from God? What assumptions, judgments, fears, things we are ashamed of, are getting in the way of the living waters flowing to us, filling us up and satisfying us, and then flowing out to others?

Baptism is the sacrament in which we get to experience, first hand, the waters of God overflowing to us and through us, cleansing us, claiming us, and making us vessels of blessing to others.

Water can itself be a block sometimes. More and more water is polluted. It can be dangerous. It can be toxic. Will we treat it like the sacrament it is, protecting it so that it can bring life abundant both physically and spiritually? God’s vision does include clean water flowing to all. Does yours?

Water is also unpredictable, like the Holy Spirit. Water is becoming more concentrated in some areas of the earth and vanishing from other parts because of changes in the earth and atmosphere. Wars are fought over water and the right to it can become a situation of contention. We have this problem with the Klamath River between farmers and fish. We’ve been having conversations about the Columbia River with Canada, because how they use it affects us downriver. Federal regulators proposed revisions to a treaty between Canada and the United States over use and management of the Columbia River. We want to make sure that water will be a blessing to all who use it. Water doesn’t respect boundaries of countries. It makes us have to work together and think about the ways we are connected.

It is a little bit like this tree above our upper parking lot. I really never gave it a second thought until 2 years ago when the neighbors wanted to cut it down. Then I started to appreciate the shade it provided, the water it held within itself that didn’t flow onto our parking lot, the birds and squirrels that made it their homes. And before that I only thought of our neighbors up above us very occasionally. But on Tuesday our neighbors came down to speak to the council because they are prepared to meet our conditions for removing the tree, grinding the stump, putting in a nice mature tree that won’t grow so tall and removing the troublesome cottonwoods that will likely soon be “erupting” the parking lot pavement with their terrible root systems. I am not thrilled that the tree will be coming down, but I have to admit this tree brought us together. Our neighbors have a bunch of little grandkids. They are active in their church. They are interested in our pantry. We now know them and they know us. We are connected. We have common interests. We are people. Now, the communication lines are more open to dialogue and relationship. I hope that blessing will continue to flow between us and grow.

Water is refreshing—we need to drink it to live. It is cleansing—it takes off the layers of dirt, so we can be cleansed. It connects us with all forms of life—we all need it to live. It connects all places—water doesn’t respect boundaries. It is powerful—it gives life and takes it away. It is gentle—it cradled us all in our mother’s womb. It is abundant—especially in Oregon.

Jesus let the waters overtake him, when he died for us on the cross. Some say the piercing of his side shows that the waters were flowing through him in abundance for us to give us life and to flow on to give life to all. Let the purifying and life-giving waters flow to all God’s precious creation and may we catch the vision of abundance and hope and let God work through us to create this world in the vision that we all hold deep within our heart, a true gift from God.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

March 16, 2014

Gospel: John 3:1-17
1st Reading: Genesis 12:1-4a
2nd Reading: Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

Now there was a life-long Lutheran, active in the community. He prayed daily and went to church every week, but he had an inkling there might be something more to life. He had a very vivid dream in which he snuck out to talk to Jesus in person when he was sure he wouldn’t be seen by anyone. He asked Jesus, “Is there more to life than this? Are you really who you say you are? Can you perform a miracle in my life?” And Jesus said to him, “Yes, I want a new life for you and for everyone. A new start is possible, but if you are too invested in your comfortable life, you won’t want a new start and the miracle of a changed and fulfilling life may be difficult for you.” The Lutheran said, “I don’t think I can make a new start. I’m getting older. This is the trajectory of my life and I can’t help it.” Jesus said, “A new start is available to any who want it, who have the faith to start on this new journey. All of life is a risk. You really don’t know that the life you have now will be there tomorrow anyway. It could all be swept away. But you have a pull inside you that tells you there is something more in this life than being a teacher and being wise and rich and comfortable. Go in search of that something more and you will find God with you. You will experience the miracle of God’s blessing. You will find fulfillment and connections and you will be a blessing to those around you.” The Lutheran said, “I don’t understand what you are talking about.” Jesus said, “You are a wise teacher, but you don’t get it. That’s ok, I will walk with you on this journey. If you want to get it, you will need to look in a new direction, you will need to put your faith in God and try some things you’ve never tried before. In fact God is inviting you to look in a new direction and go in a new direction, to start over completely and put your welfare in God’s hands. God loves you and the entire universe so much that God came to be a part of you and your neighbors and your enemies and the plants and animals the moon and the stars. God came to be a part of all this, not to show us how bad you are and punish you and make things worse for you, but to give abundant life to all living things, so that balance would be restored and all would know God’s love. Will you accept this invitation of new life, a new beginning for you and for all?”

Now we’re left with a cliff hanger. We have to assume that Nicodemus and the Lutheran retreated back into the darkness they came from, because nothing more is said about them for a long time. But Abram gets the same invitation to a new beginning in the first reading for today, and we know what happens next for him.

Abram has been looking up at the stars and dreaming, wondering if this is all there is to life. He pays attention to his dissatisfaction. He is praying and God answers. God tells him that there is more to life. God tells him that he’s going to have to leave all he knows and go someplace unknown. But God also tells him, promises him, that if he goes, he will have a life of blessing, not only for himself, but for all the families on earth. And the amazing miracle is that Abram goes.

The reading ends there, but I had to laugh when I read the next sentence. “Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.” You’re never too old for a changed life, for a new start, to begin a life of blessing. When we’re young, we think it will be easier to change life later, in retirement, after the kids have left the house. When we’re older, we think it is up to the younger generation to change the world. We get senioritis, short-timers syndrome and the temptation is to coast.

I think of so many faithful people here, having heard the call of God to go from their place of comfort to be a blessing to others, who said, “Ok God” and went. Some may not have thought they had a choice, but there is always the choice to give up and slink away or to stand up and move forward.

I think of widows and widowers who could have given up at the death of a spouse and given in to grief and depression, who stood up and moved forward, eyes open for God’s hand working in this and through this, honest about their pain, not hiding it, but looking for blessing and finding and giving it through the life of grace they were leading.

I think of Judith and others in the congregation, facing cancer or other illnesses, finding their way in illness and receiving blessing and being a blessing until the day they died.

I think of many who sold their homes, gave away most of their possessions to live a simpler life in a retirement community and those who gave up cars and have to learn to ask for help getting from place to place. It isn’t easy to start a whole new life, but God invites us to it and is with us in it.

The first step is to become aware of what isn’t working. This goes against the grain. We’re supposed to be positive. We’re supposed to push away those feelings of dissatisfaction, loneliness, helplessness, disconnection, and depression and pretend we don’t feel that way. But those feelings are a clue that we’re not tied into the Spirit that gives us life that Jesus is talking about in the Gospel. There is something holy about our dissatisfaction. That’s part of the reason we talked about these during our Lenten worship on Wednesday night. We all have pain in our lives, and yes, there is always somebody who has it worse, but those feelings are a part of who we are and they are telling us something important about ourselves and the world we live in. We’re a mess! We’re off track! And that isn’t bad news, because God loves this mess and claims this mess and can do something with this mess. It is when we pretend to be all put together that God can’t get through to us. When we’re a mess, we are more ready to look to God for help and put our faith in God rather than ourselves. We’re more ready to start on the journey that God wants us to take in order to find new abundant life, balance, and hope and healing. Until we face what a mess we are, we can’t get on with the good news of new life that God is offering. That’s why we have the confession each week in Lent. It isn’t to make us feel bad, but so that having opened our eyes to our own mess, we can look beyond it to God and what is next for us, which is a bit of wandering, perhaps, and finally God promises there will be blessing for us and others.

God says to Abram, “I will make of you a great nation.” In another chapter God says that he will have offspring as numerous as the stars. With all the reading I’ve been doing, there is a big question in my mind about whether humankind will be able to survive the climate crisis, and I am not the only one by a long shot. It isn’t just that I’d like Sterling and his friends to survive, but I’d like them to know the beauty of birdsong, to be able to grow tomatoes and eat them warm and fresh from the plant, to be able to go play in the snow. I want him to survive and I want him to have life abundant, like I’ve had, and maybe even more than I have, because I have not had a balanced life. I have taken more than I have given back.

I am trying to face my pain and brokenness and disconnection and be realistic about it, even as I love life and enjoy good health and much satisfaction and comfort. But in the middle of the night, I come to Jesus and I tell him my fears and hopes and wonder if I can change, if I want to, if it will even matter whether I do or not. I know you do, too. And he invites us to new life, to make different choices and follow a different course than before. There is no map to show us how to get there. There is no brochure describing our destination. There is only the promise of new life, if we can let go of the old and move forward in hope, trusting God to take us someplace new and more life-giving for all creation, more balanced, more of a blessing to all the families of the earth, whether they be human, animal, plant, insect, or bacteria, near or far, like us or so very different.

God more than invites us, God tells us to get going! Go from this life that is cursed and broken, although it is the cursed and broken one you know, and get a whole new start in abundant life. It is scary, but it is good and full of blessing, and we won’t be alone.

We’ve been left with our cliffhanger regarding Nicodemus. The next time he appears in the Gospel is after Jesus has given his life on the cross. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimithea come together to take down his body from the cross, wash, anoint, and wrap it for burial, and then lay it in the tomb in the garden. In the time between this morning’s gospel and Jesus’ death, something happened in Nicodemus’ life. Who knows how many nights he relived that conversation with Jesus, how the feeling of dissatisfaction had to grow in him, how the journey started for him and what twists and turns it took? Somehow, he had started out on that journey of new life, despite now knowing his route or destination, and found himself a disciple ministering to Jesus’ body and performing the death rituals for him, mourning his Savior. He must have been very sad and afraid. I don’t know if he regretted this journey or questioned his faith. I don’t know what he experienced during that journey that kept him going even in the face of such suffering. Yet, God’s promise held strong through all that darkness, because Jesus is risen, so that everyone could have abundant life and have the chance to be blessed. Nicodemus admitted his own brokenness, took it to Jesus, and after mulling it over, took that leap of faith and started the new life of water and Spirit that Jesus described to him, the life of blessing for all the families of the earth.

For God so loved the world, that God gave the only son, so that everyone who believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

March 9, 2014

Gospel: Matthew 4:1-11
1st Reading: Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
2nd Reading: Romans 5:12-19

“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We pray that almost every Sunday. Somebody in the last couple of weeks mentioned to me that when they were a kid praying that, they pictured someone actually encroaching on someone else’s property, sneaking over a fence or through a yard. There is hardly anything that makes me squirm more in a movie than when people enter someone else’s house when they don’t have permission to. I guess it is because if they are going to put it in a movie, it is because those people are going to get caught. I do not enjoy that discomfort of knowing that something bad is going to happen, and not knowing when. If I am at home, I am usually shouting at the TV screen, “Get the heck out of there! What are you doing?!”

Think of Adam and Eve this morning trespassing in the garden of Eden. Here God has given them everything in this beautiful garden to enjoy and they are leaping the fence to touch and taste the one thing that God has forbidden them to. They go after the one thing they weren’t supposed to have. God gave them limits and they could not resist temptation to push those boundaries—to test God.

The reading from Romans this morning says, “One man’s trespass led to condemnation for all.” It doesn’t seem fair that just because Adam and Eve sinned and broke the rules that we should all face death for it. But who of us in the same situation, wouldn’t do exactly the same thing? This is a story about human nature to break the rules and to trespass the limits God has given us these limits for our own good.

I think sometimes we read this story and we are proud. Human curiosity and ingenuity always pushes us forward to achieve a better existence. If we weren’t so curious, we would have never invented so many life-saving medicines and technologies that make life better. But this story is about short-sightedness of human beings who want to know everything and have everything without realizing that God has set limits on us for a reason. Just like parents give children limits out of love, we need the limits that God gives us to make sure that the balance of life is protected, that all creation is respected as a part of the whole, so that we grow up not just to serve ourselves, but so that we can be in relationship with other people and part of something greater.

This isn’t just a story about what we would have done if we had been Adam or Eve, this is a story about what we do everyday, the choices we make every day that cross the limits of what God tells is healthy and good, to take what we don’t need and doesn’t belong to us, to try to play God. The death that comes is not a death sentence from God as punishment, it is the natural result of what happens when we don’t keep within limits.

There is a natural balanced order that God created that is good. It is an order in which each part of creation takes in just what it needs, bears fruit, plays its part in the circle of life, and gives back enrichment and life as much as it took. But Adam and Eve forgot that they were part of something greater and were driven by their selfishness. They started to see the tree, not as part of something greater, not just as God’s beautiful, amazing creation, not as something that gave life to many, but as an object that could serve them. It became not a subject to be in relationship with, but an object that they could use to benefit them.

It reminds me of the book by Shel Silverstien called “The Giving Tree.” I actually despise this book, even though some people say the tree does for us what Christ does. The boy and the tree grow up together and the tree loves the boy and the boy first takes an apple, then a branch, then boards, then its trunk until it has nothing left. That’s how Adam and Eve are treating this tree. My problem with “The Giving Tree” is that the boy just takes and takes. He is never grateful. He never realizes how he is hurting his friend. He never sees that this could be a mutually beneficial relationship, but only how the tree can serve him.

Adam and Eve didn’t realize that their welfare was tied in with the tree’s welfare. You can’t have one without the other. We think we are independent, but we are tied to every other life form on the planet in a complex web that only God can see clearly. When Adam and Eve trespassed on the tree, they were trespassing on their own welfare and livelihood and that is one way in which they became fallen, we are fallen and sinful and this results in our death by our own hand.

We, too, want what we can’t have or don’t have. I went with my dad to the Antique and Collectibles show at the Expo Center last weekend. I was at the same time filled with despair at all the completely useless stuff that was piled in two huge rooms, and fascinated and curious about all the pretty shining things that caught my eye and imagination. I really didn’t feel that I wanted any of it, but it was fun to look at and to imagine where it had come from. The despair was about all the stuff we want but don’t need, all the energy that went into making all this stuff and then later transporting it back and forth to shows like this one, that could instead have been used to feed people, replant trees, or do something that mattered at all. Then that feeling was compacted when I got home and I found out that the site of the Expo Center was once a Japanese Internment Camp that housed people for months until they could transport them to a bigger camp.

God has given us everything good in life, food, shelter, comfort, family, health and on an on. But the corporations and advertising tell us a different story—this is the real serpent reminding us that still there’s that one thing we don’t have yet, that tree whose fruits will make us stronger, prettier or more manly, give us the perfect smile, confidence, brains, and riches so that we can pursue other trees with even better fruits.

The saddest part comes next. In the beginning, Adam and Eve were in conversation with God, relating to God, spending time together in mutually beneficial relationship—don’t forget, God was lonely and wanted someone to relate to and now God seemed pretty pleased with this Creation and with this being made in God’s image. But now that the temptation has entered in, the human beings instead of talking to God, talk about God. God becomes not a subject, a trusted friend, but an object, someone you talk about, plot against, question the intentions of. They talk to the serpent about God. “God said, ‘you shall not eat it’” and the serpent gets them to question God’s intentions and judgment without consulting God at all. When the humans broke the limits and saw the tree as an object to be exploited, that was just the beginning. Now God, the primary relationship of goodness and life was objectified and thrown away for the hope of the more, more, more that seems to drive us.

Here comes Jesus facing temptation, in the Gospel. Here is God in human form, showing us that limits are good. He fasts. He goes hungry. He limits his food. He isn’t just a little hungry. He is famished. He is tempted to make the rocks into loaves of bread and feast. He replies, “Life is about more than food.” “We do not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” We can’t let our stomachs be the rulers of our lives. Jesus had the promise of God of life and that was the word he was feasting on that was satisfying to him. Jesus didn’t come to feed his own belly in the short-term, nor to win favor of the often hungry masses by feeding them like the Romans did, but to feed others who hunger not only with bread but the promise of life and relationship and interconnection that God sees in the big picture.

Jesus is tempted to cross the limits he took on as a human and leap from the top of the temple to test and see if God really loved him enough to send the angels to rescue him. Jesus refused to do that stunt there at the temple where all the religious leaders were gathered. He knew they would have seen and supported him. But he didn’t want to use them in that way to gain power, although it surely would have been easier. He didn’t want to work through the short-sighted religious establishment to bring his message of hope and love. He knew that the religious leaders were already so far off track, so far from God’s original intention, that the message would not make it through. It would be corrupted by those who wanted to use it to gain power for themselves. Religion is so easily twisted to help some and not others. It gets used to help some to keep taking and taking, trespassing on the lives of the less powerful, and others to suffer in poverty and illness until they died. Jesus’ message would not work this way either.

Finally, Jesus is tempted to seize all earthly kingdoms and use military force to gain power. He is tempted to trespass on everyone, everywhere and use bloodshed and might to make people join in healing, balanced relationship with everyone else. That just didn’t make sense to Jesus, either. Again, he resists the temptation.

It seems we are doomed to continue trespassing, wanting what is just beyond reach and trespassing on each other, on creation, and on God and causing death everywhere we go. But all is not lost. There is one who resisted temptation to give us new life, and that is Jesus. He is the one who offers us the grace of God that abounds for the many and in fact, for all. Through this gift of grace we are freed from the cycle of trespassing and healed from this tendency to objectify the other and given the chance to be again the people God made us to be, in harmony and relationship with God and all other living things. God made us for more than just for satisfying our bellies, getting attention, and wreaking violence upon each other and isn’t that good news. God made us in God’s image and gave us limits so that we would be able to share life and love in a web of beautiful relationships that make more abundant life for all.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Ash Wednesday 2014

I have two reactions to Ash Wednesday, one when I give the ashes, the other when I receive them. Maybe someday, I’ll let you give them to each other. I just couldn’t figure out how to deal with 40 dirty thumbs, when my one is difficult enough to deal with!

When I give the ashes, I feel more sad. I reflect on all who have passed on. I remember those to whom I have given ashes who have become ashes. I think of Doug and Judith and Ed. I wonder how many of you we will bid farewell this year. I imagine each of you on your death bed. I imagine your memorial service, comforting your loved ones, saying goodbye. I feel sad.

But when I receive the ashes, I feel relieved. Sometimes I feel so tired, that a long rest in the grave doesn’t sound so bad. Sometimes I get so tired of the mistakes I make, that it is nice to know things won’t always be that way. It is nice to know that not only am I dust, this body temporary, but that all my actions, thoughts, embarrassments, and sins are dust, too. They are temporary.

It is Jesus who makes them temporary. It is Jesus who despite our dustiness and ashiness, forgives us, washes us in the waters of baptism, and claims us into his family. In baptism, we receive the mark of the cross in oil on our foreheads and the pastor says, “You are sealed by the power of the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.” Today we receive that same cross marking, but this time in ash. Tonight is about temporary part—the show off part of us that needs to go, the part of us desperate for attention, the part of us in a cycle of brokenness, the part of us that needs to become dust, and the part of us that keeps turning away from God. This is our opportunity to be more aware of those things that need to go because they are getting in the way of our relationship with God. This is our time to give praise to God for turning to ash our sins.

These ashes confirm the ones in our baptism. Tonight we are reminded of our baptismal vocation. So much in our lives is ash and death. The Holy Spirit is a divine wind blowing them away. What is left is what is permanent and lasting and beautiful, and that is that God made us good, God made us sons and daughters, children of God and brothers and sisters to each other and to the poor and sick and lonely. When God marked us in baptism, God claimed us, whatever ash got all over us, whatever ash we made by burning our bridges. We have been marked by the cross of Christ forever. When all that is temporary turns to ash, our bodies, our mistakes, our possessions, our insecurities, there will be something left and that is relationship with God, God’s love. And because this mark is permanent, it goes on after we die when we are raised to new life in Christ.

The question for us tonight is, now that we have been freed through the gift of God's grace, what we are going to do between now and when our temporary body is turned to dust. We have the choice, how to live our lives. We can and will keep piling up what is temporary and hurtful on us and each other. And we have faith that Christ will prevail and we can do something that will have a more lasting effect, that will make a difference for another person in need, that will show forth God’s love and shine a light in a dusty place.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Transfiguration Sunday, 2014

Gospel: Matthew 17:1-9
1st Reading: Exodus 24:12-18
2nd Reading: 2 Peter 1:16-21

When I was growing up, I loved the book "The Country Mouse and the City Mouse." I don't know if you remember the plot, so I'll give you a little of it. The city mouse goes to visit his cousin in the country and makes fun of his simple way of life. He invites his cousin to the city to experience all the delights the city offers. I remember pouring over that page where the two mice stand on the kitchen table full of food. There was a mountain of mashed potatoes, dinner rolls taller than the mice, a giant relish tray with olives and pickles, and who can forget the great chocolate cake. I remember discussing with the other kids what foods we’d eat first, a strategy to ensure we got to eat the best of what was there before the family came back who had strangely abandoned this table. Of course, you know what happens next, danger lurks in the form of a vicious cat, who peeks his eyes up over the edge of the table. The moral of the story is that the country is better than the city, even though the city offers many delights, because it is safer.

In the Gospel for this morning, we’ve got the country disciples and the city disciples. A few are invited up to the mountain with Jesus. Others are down in the city, continuing the ministry of Jesus among the people, healing, feeding, and sharing the Gospel. It might be fun to put ourselves in their shoes. Would you rather be a country disciple or a city disciple? Maybe the ones who stayed behind in the city were jealous that they didn’t get to go with Jesus up the mountain. Certainly they would have been once they learned what happened up there. Or maybe they were just as glad they didn’t go—maybe they were relieved not to have take that long hike. Maybe it didn’t matter so much where they were that day. Maybe both the country and the city have their place, the part in God’s story and God’s plan. Whether the disciples were up on the mountain standing before the glory of God, or down with the people building community and breaking the bonds that bind people, they were having an experience of God. Sometimes we think we have to choose between one or the other, that God is on one path but not another, when God is really with us whatever path we choose.

Peter thought that the mountain was the best place. That’s why he suggested building some dwellings. He wanted to stay there a good long time. Enough with all that city ministry. Let’s stay here and bask in the glory of God. Let’s stay here and listen to Moses and Elijah for a good long time. Let’s stay where it is safe. But God reminded Peter that the most important thing isn’t staying safe, it is listening to Jesus. Wherever you are, country or city, listen to Jesus. Whether you are rich or poor, listen to Jesus. Whether you are sick or well, listen to Jesus.

This question of city verses country and which is best, calls to mind other choices we sometimes think we have to make—false choices that really don’t have a right answer. Which is best, the country or city? Both are good in their own way. Another choice we sometimes debate in the Christian community is whether Jesus is human or divine. Many have come to the conclusion that he is both and this story illustrates that.

The Disciples had been with Jesus almost three years. They had eaten with him, seen him snoring in the boat, walked miles and miles with him, gone swimming and fishing with him, and seen his human side. Now this man they had come to know begins to glow with the light of God and the disciples hear the voice of God reminding them that Jesus is also divine, God’s own beloved Son. We need to know he is human, that he is just like us, so we can relate to him and know that God knows what we go through every day. We need him to be on our level and share our experiences. And we need to know that Jesus is Divine, that he has something more to offer than an ordinary human could. Because he is Divine, he has no beginning and no end. He was there at the beginning of creation and will be forever. Therefore death could not defeat him and he rose from the dead. Then he gave us new life as his brothers and sisters. Is Jesus human or divine? The answer is yes. He is both fully at the same time.

Another paradox that we hold is that we are simultaneously saint and sinner. We are both fully broken and rebellious, and welcomed into God’s family, one of God’s own. All we can do is turn away from God, but God keeps turning us back again, keeps coming to us and reaching out a hand for healing and relationship. At the same time that Peter makes a clueless comment about making some dwellings so they can stay put on the mountain, God is blessing him with God’s presence and showing him a better way. Isn’t it nice to know that as clueless as we often are, God is still there, blessing us with God’s glory, and showing us a better way.

Today is a mountain story. Think of the story this mountain would tell if it could. Mountains today also have a story to tell. The climbers of the giant peaks of the world tell us that the mountains are littered with what gets left behind—oxygen tanks and waste from thousands of climbers piling up. And they tell of melting glaciers—pictures that show the effects of climate change and quickly this earth is changing. We’ve been through large fluxuations in temperature before, but always much more slowly so plants and animals had time to adapt. This time, it is different. Sometimes we think that it is a choice between caring for the earth, the mountains, and caring for people. But we’re finding that if we care for the mountains, we also care for people—that our welfare is tied very closely to the earth’s. If we stop the coal trains from coming through here, we help keep our air clean and help kids with athsma. If we work to clean up our oceans and waterways, we ensure that people will be able to safely eat fish and enjoy recreation at the coast.

This is the last Sunday before Lent begins. Lent is often a time to either give something up that isn’t serving us well or take on a new practice to take us out of our comfort zone, and what we are used to and to try to live a more life-giving way. It is a time when Jesus takes us with him out in the wilderness to try to teach us something new about what makes for more abundant life for us and others. I invite you this lent to give something up—you might choose to give up a junk food that isn’t serving you well. You might choose not to purchase unnecessary items and give a little more for Backpack Buddies. You might choose to forgo pesticides in your yard. You might give up using your car one day a week. I invite you this lent to take something on—maybe a waterways clean up, maybe to serve in a ministry that you haven’t tried before, maybe to visit someone who is homebound.

Whether you are a country mouse or a city mouse, you are loved by God. We are standing here, shaking in our boots, having heard the word of God. Jesus reaches out a hand of comfort and touches us saying, "Get up and do not be afraid."