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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

May 25, 2014

Gospel: John 14:15-21
1st Reading: Acts 17:22-31
Psalm 66:8-20
2nd Reading: 1 Peter 3:13-22

As many of you know, my little guy loves fans. He is obsessed with fans. I like to shop at second hand stores and we aren’t there very long before he usually spots a used fan on a shelf somewhere and asks for it. Sometimes, if it isn’t too dirty or too big to fit with him there in the cart, I get it down for him and let him play with it because it gives me more time to browse. Sometimes this just makes him very upset. He says, “Turn it on, Mommy!” and sometimes cries and carries on. I try to explain to him that it needs to be plugged in to work and sometimes he takes the plug and tries to connect it to the shopping cart or even to insert it somewhere near the blades.

We, too, need to be plugged in to our power source in order to come to life. Just like a fan can’t plug itself in, there isn’t really much we can do about it. God created us. Jesus came to show us life abundant. We are already plugged in to our power source. We just might not know it or feel it sometimes.

In Jesus’ time, Jewish folks believed that God’s power came down to Jerusalem and plugged in there. That was the hub. Then the priests plugged into that power source and they could decide who else could plug in to them to be connected to God. The priests were the gatekeepers. It was a similar situation in the Roman Catholic Church and still may be to a certain extent and there is perhaps still some of that residue left in Lutheranism and other forms of Christianity. For instance, we say in Lutheranism that only pastors can bless the bread and wine for communion, which is a sacrament, the body and blood of Christ. Communion gives a special access to God available only through pastors. I just call it job security, not gate-keeping or restricting access, especially since we say all are welcome to commune.

When Jesus came, it was like an electrical jolt of energy. The Disciples, Jesus’ closest followers, got used to having their power source right at hand. But Jesus was now telling them that he was going away and they were anticipating a power outage. This was an absolute disaster for them. Jesus was showing them how to stay connected, once he wasn’t there with them all the time teaching them and directly leading them in person every day. Although Jesus would die and later ascend into heaven, he would still be their power source and keep them connected to God. This way they would be able to do healings and feed people and share the good news and live abundantly and help others to do the same. In 1 Peter we get a picture of what happens to Jesus after he dies. Jesus’ job is to bring us to God, keep us connected. He held that power cord within himself as he died, linked it up with the unrighteous as well, put them on the power grid, and ascended to heaven, putting a permanent installment of power lines between us and God. That way we would stay connected forever.

So, without any initiative from us, we are connected with God. God gave us life and keeps us going, in this life and forever. And as living creatures made in God’s image, we are curious, and we begin to grope, to ask why, to look for meaning in life, to ask why we suffer, to explore how we can relate to each other and this world, to seek connection. As we seek answers to the deepest questions of life, and begin groping around in the dark, we may begin to get an inkling about this power source, this connection between us and God. And we a link, not just to our power source, but to all others who are also part of this grid. We find ourselves linked up to other people who are also asking similar questions, seeking, searching, hoping, praying for something more, looking for connection with something greater. And we even find ourselves connected to those who aren’t looking for more. We find ourselves connected to people who are just like us and those who are very different from us. We find ourselves connected to God, our power source, our source of life and love, and we find connection with each other.

When Paul went to Athens, at first he could find no connection with the people he met there. All he saw at first were these strange people who worshiped all these other gods. Everywhere he looked he saw shrines to every conceivable god, people misunderstanding their power source. But he knew in Christ he was connected so he looked harder for that connection to these strange people. He found this shrine to an unknown god. He knew these people were searching just like he had. They had all these gods, yet something was still missing. Their gods were more like people, just with a lot more power. They were like the X-Men. They had personality flaws and weaknesses and fought with each other all the time. These Athenian people were holding out hope that they would find the missing link, that they would find a connection that made a little more sense, that gave them a set of values that would be satisfying, that would explain life a little more clearly, that would show them their connections with each other and empower them to fully live. And Paul affirms their search and their openness. He found the common ground between him and these people. He related to the people he met there. He was able to share his experience of God, who God is, what God does. Paul explained that unknown god tothem, giving them all a connection to God through Jesus Christ.

The Christian slaves in first Peter knew their connection with their Creator. Even though they were far from home, had no rights, and were looked down upon and constantly discriminated against, they remembered their connection with God, their source of power and life. They never forgot that. Through this letter, they are being encouraged and built up to keep that connection open with those who oppress them. They are encouraged to keep up their hope, not in broken and damaging human institutions like slavery, but in God who frees us and loves us to live fully, to live connected. Hope was a rare thing in those times in that place where this letter was written. If their oppressors saw hope in them, with the least reason to hope, their oppressors might be inclined to ask them to give an account of the hope that is within them. Where does it come from? How do you keep going? These Christians are ready to give an answer, to tell that their hope comes from God and explain what it does for them and how it keeps them going and how they stay connected.

We live in a world that is so connected. The moment someone gets sick, a natural disaster strikes, or Justin Bieber gets arrested, we can know it. When Nigerian girls get kidnapped across the world, we know it. Yet sometimes we are so overwhelmed by all the information coming in that we can’t sort it out anymore, or we get so connected electronically, that we forget the live people right in front of us.

God dreams of a world where we tend to our connections. I can picture God’s dream where we know where we come from, that God made us in love to love and care for each other and this world that God made. I can picture God’s dream in which we tend to the connections between us, where we look for what we have in common, where we are curious about one another and ask questions and form relationships that bind us close, where we make ourselves vulnerable to each other and show who we really are, what hurts us, what gives us joy, opening fully that connection between us. I can picture God’s dream in which we truly feel one another’s joy and one another’s pain and it leads us to act to make this world more life-giving for everyone and everything that God has made good.

Today we are talking together about same-gender marriage and blessing in this church building. We’ve talked and acted over the years to be loving and inclusive of all people, to open our connections with those we’ve hurt over the years, to honor God’s values of love. We’ve studied the Bible and realized that we all pick and choose from the chapters and verses there. We know the Bible is inspired by God, but written by human hands, reworked and corrected, added to and subtracted from and then translated in thousands of different languages and translations. We know it was written in a certain time and place for a particular culture. And we know that Jesus talked about how we spend our money, that we should give it all away and that divorce is wrong, but never breathed a word about homosexuality, that was written down anywhere. And we know that we are one body, although with different perspectives and experiences, we belong to Christ. That connection between us and God and us and each other can never be severed. We belong to each other and we belong to Christ. We are connected to each other, despite our differences. And that is a good thing. We need each other to make the connection complete, because God’s love is for all—the righteous and the unrighteous, slaves and oppressors, democrats and republicans, men and women, and so forth. Let us remember our connections to God and each other as we move forward in our discussion, and see this as an opportunity to grow our faith, to give an account of the hope that is within us, and to grow into a stronger community of love.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

May 4, 2014

Gospel: Luke 24:13-35
Reading: Acts 2:14a, 36-41

I invite you this morning to stop and take notice of the beating of your heart. Find your pulse – either on your wrist or on your neck, wherever you can feel it strongly. This is fire. Pure energy. Just as the energy from the sun animates all life and ignites chemical reactions that enable the flourishing of life, this fire is also within us, igniting millions of chemical reactions that enable us to exist as the beings that we are. Consider where this pulse came from and how it came to be you. Feel your blood pulsing, keeping your cells alive, bringing oxygen and nutrients, and taking away carbon dioxide and other waste products. How amazing the heart is! Consider how it beats throughout our lives, the four chambers working together, the network of veins and capillaries stretching for tens of thousands of miles, if laid end to end about 2 ½ times around the earth. Continue to note the beating of your heart.

I remember the first time I heard Sterling’s heartbeat through the monitor at the midwife’s office—the fast beating whoosh, and each time after that. I remember seeing his heart on the ultrasound—I could see all the chambers. And now to hold him close and feel his heart beating, fast when he’s upset or has been running or jumping, slowing as he sleeps. What an amazing miracle that this organ is that beats inside each one of us.

The heart is involved in so much more than just pumping blood. According to Rollin McCraty Institute of HeartMath Director of Research, "The heart is a sensory organ and acts as a sophisticated information encoding and processing center that enables it to learn, remember, and make independent functional decisions.”. He discovered that the heart’s electromagnetic field, as measured by an electrocardiogram (ECG), in one individual could be detected and measured in another person when the pair either were seated within three feet of each other whether they were touching or not. The heart of one person sends out signals that affect other people nearby.

The heart is busy doing all these things that we are just beginning to understand, yet how often do we take a moment to be aware of what our heart does for us, how it affects us and others?

The heart is mentioned several times in the readings for this morning. In Acts, Peter is addressing a huge crowd of Jewish people of every language and nationality there in Jerusalem. Upon hearing all that Peter shares about Jesus, how he is the Messiah, many in the crowd were cut to the heart. They were touched. They had a physical reaction to this news. They knew about Jesus. They were the ones who had cried out for him to be crucified not two months before. This feeling of being cut to the heart may have been a mixture of shame a guilt, with some hope mixed in and some joy. Here were Jesus’ friends addressing them who had cried out for him to be crucified. The disciples didn’t come to shame them. They came to share the good news of God’s love, forgiveness, and new life for all. The hearts of those in the crowd were probably hurt because of what they had done to Jesus. In the heat of the moment and the pressure of the crowd, they’d acted rashly and cruelly. But now, they’d had some time to reflect on their actions. They may have seen him suffering there on the cross. Many of them likely had regretted their actions that day. Now Jesus’ friends were offering them acceptance and welcome. They were forgiven. They were invited to be part of something life-giving and new. They were invited to be part of the promise for all, for their children, for those who are far away. They heard loud and clear, each in their own language, it doesn’t matter where you come from, what language you speak, or how you’ve been cruel in the past, you are welcome to join with Jesus in life and love. They were invited into community which would strengthen them and give them new vision and awareness.

While we’re not quite having 3,000 baptisms today, it’s not a competition, and this is one of the largest groups of people we’ve welcomed here in a long time. Today God says to these new members that we are all in one community, God’s family. How wonderful that folks here at King of Kings took notice that someone they knew was searching and thought to invite them, that our website was able to convey the kind of welcome that Christ extends to us all, that through open minds and open hearts we’ve embraced these new people in our midst, that these folks have come to accept us for who we are with all our shortcomings and failings, and that together we make a new community. We gather together and affect one another’s hearts. Together we look with the eyes of our hearts, we share our stories of faith, we share our struggles, and together we try to see Jesus and his love and we try to be Jesus’ heart reaching out in love and generosity to those in need.

In the Gospel reading, Jesus calls the disciples slow of heart. He calls them foolish. He calls them slow of heart to believe what the prophets have been saying in the Bible all along about what the Messiah would be like and that he would be raised and that he would bring new life to all people and draw all creation to himself.

Jesus calls them slow of heart because they missed the point of his teachings. They walked with Jesus for three whole years. Still they didn’t see what was right in front of their faces, Jesus. The Disciples heard the scriptures. They went to the tomb. The same is true of us. We miss Jesus right in front of us. Jesus tells us to look for him in the poor and imprisoned and hungry and abandoned.

Jesus comes near to us and walks with us on the road. Our eyes don’t see him. We see what we’re used to seeing. We blame people for their condition, we judge. We don’t look and listen for Jesus. We stand around looking sad, feeling sorry for ourselves. We cry out for God to get people back in shape, to make this world better, and we miss Jesus standing right in front of us.

What if we stopped and listened to the beating of our hearts? What if we stopped and made ourselves aware that the person standing right in front of us also has a beating heart? What if we stopped and acknowledged the miracle right in front of us? And what if we listen to them, their story about what makes them who they are and what they are passionate about? And what if we shared some of our heart with them about what makes us who we are? What if we simply accompanied each other, shared our presence with one another, our energy field? Might we be more likely to see Jesus there? Could that change our whole world view until our hearts are burning to know other people more deeply and to know ourselves more deeply, and to know God more deeply? Might our hearts then burn with the Holy Spirit that binds us together into community?

Out of that conversation between the disciples and the risen Jesus, comes an invitation. The disciples urged Jesus to come to dinner. Whenever we invite Jesus, he accepts. And as he breaks that bread at the table with them and blesses it, he is blessing them with his presence, and the day ends. The old passes away and something new begins to occur. Even though it is dark, and it would have made more sense if they had recognized him in the light of day, their eyes are opened and everything changes. Their whole history is reinterpreted, considering Christ’s presence from the beginning of the universe, through time, in every tree and river, to the moment of their birth when their heart began to pump oxygen, breath, spirit, that their very own lungs had drawn into their body, in every dark valley, in every loss, in every life lesson, in every moment of love and forgiveness. God with them at all times and all places.

Jesus reveals himself to the Disciples and reveals himself to us. It was in the breaking of the bread that he is revealed. It is in those times when we are broken, not quite whole, that we are ragged and jagged, awkward, when we are so aware of our own need, our own failures, that our eyes can be open to see Jesus offering new life. Just as our hearts pump blood throughout our bodies and sustain our life, Jesus’ love pumps through our lives, whether we are aware of it or not, God’s presence with us.

God came to be a human being with a beating heart, like all of us. And he allowed his own heart to be broken, with all the injustice he saw, all the people he met that were left out, all the children going hungry, all the cruelty that we inflict on ourselves and each other and this beautiful world. And he allowed his heart to be broken, literally, as he died there on the cross. His beating heart stopped. And he handed his heart to us, in this meal that we share almost every week, the body and blood of Jesus, the heart of Jesus, pumping life and love to all of us, his body in this world.

Now, together with Christians of every time and place we are asked to be Jesus’ heart beating for the world. We are invited to have a heart for the poor, the old, for teenagers, for little ones, for the tired, for the sick, for the oppressed and hungry. We get to be Christ’s heart in the world, full of compassion and love, aware of all the beating hearts around us and responsive to their needs.

We find ourselves confused and disappointed in life, feeling abandoned, guilty, and weary. Like the disciples, we are walking away from the cross, from all the difficulties we’ve faced. We find Jesus walking with us. We find people of God, people of faith walking by our side. We find God’s grace and forgiveness walking with us, listening to us, being with us in our sorrow. And in a meal, a relationship is recognized that has always been there, that opens our eyes to the Kingdom God is creating in this world.

This is a tiny peek at the Kingdom of God. Where else do you have such an interesting group of new members? Where else do you find this combination of gifts, passions, and life experiences? Where do you find this particular combination of beating hearts? Don’t let yourself keep walking without seeing. We break bread together at this table each week—extend that invitation to each other, get to know each other, have a compassionate heart, and find yourself seeing Christ and experiencing God’s presence wherever you go.