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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

April 19, 2015

Gospel: Luke 24:36b-48
1st Reading: Acts 3:12-19
2nd Reading: 1 John 3:1-7

What is your favorite book and why?

I've been reading “War and Peace.” I picked it up at the Goodwill Bins a few years ago. I like to read the classics. I didn't really think about how it would sound to people when I said that I was reading it. Sounds kind of snooty, doesn't it? I didn't really take that into consideration when I grabbed it. I just kind of thought that it is one of the greats. It is a bucket list kind of thing, I think. I'd hate to miss out on such a great work of literature just because it is long and people think I'm weird for reading it. I made it through “Moby Dick” a few years ago, and nothing could be as bad as that! At least “War and Peace” is interesting. I just have to keep a list of characters so I can keep track—250 pages and more than 80 characters—3 of them named Marya.

I love to read and I like to think that God does, too. Here we have reference in Acts to Jesus as “the Author of life.” It is the only time he's called that in the Bible. He is the author of one heck of a book, not that any of us would be able to read the whole thing. We've all got our chapter, a part of the book and we try to compare notes with others to see what they've got until we can get a more complete picture of who God is and who we are and what life is all about. Jesus is the author of a book spanning the entire universe, or universes as we've been saying in our creed lately. This book covers the past, the creation, the ancestors, the prophets and teachers. The book covers the present—who we are now, children of God and how to live in the present. And it covers something of the future—how to live in the unknown, what we can know about the future—that we are not alone.

In the book of Acts, Peter is explaining the story. He is weaving God's story with that of the Israelites. They were pretty familiar with the parts about the Exodus and being the chosen people. But now they see part of their chapter that they might be ashamed about. This is part of all our story—how God is right here in our midst and we miss it, we mock him, we reject him, we push him away. Peter doesn't tell the people that so they will feel bad about themselves, but to show the power and love of God. Even when we mess up, when we try to kill the author of life, God is able to take that and use it for good. This message reminds us though, that we are not the be-all, end-all of everything. Our intentions are usually for self-gain. We miss the whole point. We are prone to violence and aggression when we don't get our way. This reading causes us to do some self-examination, knowing that what we find won't be so pretty. But all is not lost. If we turn our eye toward the Author of life, then we will see what really matters, we will be able to find hope again.

The best stories are a series of close calls. Homer's Odyssey, the Book of Acts in the Bible, Star Wars, Harry Potter, War and Peace—they are all a series of close calls. They keep us interested. The story of the Israelites is a series of close calls—that Abraham, a childless man would become the father of nations, that the Israelites would escape the mighty Egyptian army, that the exiles would return after a generation in bondage, these are all close calls in which God rescues them. And we are invited into that story by adoption. That was the story of the ancestors of our Savior Jesus, and he welcomes us into that family, making that our story. In this story, we are the helpless, the lawless, the ignorant, the disbelieving.

But that isn't enough to stop God, thankfully. God comes to us in the midst of the greatest of these close calls—the one in which he dies and we think he's gone, but he is risen in the resurrection and comes to us who betrayed him and denied him—and he does the most unexpected thing of all—offers us peace. And because of that, a whole new future unfolds for us. We are looking at eternal life. Our story, now, goes on and on. It doesn't have an ending anymore, except that we will see God as he is and we will be like him. We will find transformation, complete life change, healing through Jesus, not because of anything we do, but because of his transforming love and how we want to participate in that reign of love and transformation of our whole world.

Many good stories have ghosts in them, and this morning we get the possibility of a ghost. It is Jesus, but he is risen and he is real. We know he is real because the Disciples can touch him. We get the chance to touch him, too, because we can touch those in whom he has promised to be present. We can reach out to people who are sick and homebound and we know that human touch brings healing. We can touch Jesus when we shake hands with an enemy or a stranger. We can touch Jesus when we receive Holy Communion, his body and blood right here with us for us to touch. And we know he is real because he eats with us. Just when we are most afraid, when we don't know what to say because we feel so guilty and ashamed for denying him in our lives, he breaks the tension--”Anybody have anything to eat around here!” Good ol' Jesus—always hungry! Always wanting to share a meal with us. So we—the ones who reject him, who are ignorant, who are lawless—are invited to eat with him. He invites us into relationship, into wholeness, and touches us and feeds us and treats us as his children, for that is what we are.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Easter 2015

1st Reading: Isaiah 25:1-10
2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Gospel: Mark 16:1-8

One of the most interesting parts of my Master Gardener Training has been about insects. They are just so interesting—their life cycles, their anatomy, their diet, and all they do for us. I met an entomologist about a year ago and I asked him if the extinction of bees will mean the extinction of humankind. He said more important than bees are all the insects that break down the soil. If we use too many pesticides or heat our planet too much, there may someday not be enough insects to break down all the organic matter in the soil to make vitamins available to plants. The leaves and cones and wood will simply sit there and pile up with nothing to break them down into soil.

Some of the most interesting insects go through a process called complete metamorphosis. An insect is fascinating, but to go from one form to a completely different form is incredible. Of course butterflies and moths go through complete metamorphosis, as well as bees, and many other insects. The egg hatches, a grub or caterpillar emerges, eventually it enters a cocoon or pupa state, and emerges completely changed from the way it was before, usually having wings and the ability to fly. The process has been studied and cocoons or chrysalises taken apart mid process, to find only goo. It seems the insect disintegrates and then reorganizes its cells into a whole new creature.

We often speak at Easter of the caterpillar and the butterfly. Jesus walked this earth as a common caterpillar. He died and went into the tomb, which is represented by the cocoon. Three days later, he emerged with new life for us all. He was no longer a common caterpillar after he rose, but was able to move through doors and walls. He was a butterfly. He gave us all the Holy Spirit and his epace and the ability to spread our wings and fly.

Jesus is the forerunner—he went through it first. Now he invites us to die with him, to go through death to new life, enter the cocoon and be born anew. We believe this happens in baptism—a symbolic drowning of the old self, entering the cocoon of the waters, and coming out of the waters reborn with eternal life. We are invited to continue this process, our whole life long, shedding the former and taking on new life.

Here are some examples in everyday life of death and resurrection, of complete metamorphosis.

We all know people who have experienced intense loss and grief. Some of us are those people. In time, peace comes. The grief circles back at times, but the intensity changes and eventually eases bit by bit. I am reminded of my former boss from National Frozen Foods. She and her husband both retired. They had all kinds of plans to travel and garden and enjoy their retirement. Then her husband suddenly died. I was not one of the people who walked with her on her journey of grief, I had moved away to go to seminary, but after 50 years of marriage it must have been a very difficult road. A few years later she contacted me to ask me to officiate at her wedding. The first wedding I ever did was for this couple who got a second chance at love after their spouses both passed away. On September 11, 2001, both of them, bewildered by world events, showed up at their local fire station to volunteer. There they met and eventually came to love each other and commit their lives to each other. It has been more than 15 years, now, that they have traveled together, been embraced by one another's families, and enjoyed each other's company. Christ is risen, and so are we, born into new life after a very dark time of disorientation and reorganization.

My friend Leo is transgender. We've been friends since high school when we were both exploring entering the ministry. He first became aware he was transgender about two years ago. I have to admit that sometimes I can't easily wrap my mind around the transformation that has taken place. The Leo I know now, in some ways resembles the person I once knew. But in some ways is completely different. I am slowly coming to realize that this metamorphosis that is taking place doesn't depend on my making sense of it. This is something that God is doing in Leo and I have to admit that he is more like a butterfly than before. He is becoming who God made him to be and that is a beautiful thing. Christ died and is risen. Leo has gone through a death and rebirth, even with a new name and blessing from his congregation. Now he can live more authentically, he can be free to be himself. This is truly new life. Christ is Risen! Christ is risen indeed!

Finally, I see my sabbatical as kind of a death and resurrection. We've had fun and learned and grown in the caterpillar stage. We've done some important ministry, important tasks together. But soon we will enter a chrysalis. We won't see each other for a little while. During that time a lot will be happening. We will be, in some ways deconstructed, as the avenues of communication we once used will shut down, as the expectations we had will change. And we will be reconstructed as we form new relationships, as leadership grows and each of you steps in to take on the work of this place, and as self-awareness and confidence grows in all of us. I truly believe that when we emerge from this sabbatical cocoon, we will soar with wings of beauty and strength. Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!

The women at the tomb, encounter the empty chrysalis. They were going there, expecting to anoint and mourn a beloved friend of theirs. The fact that it is empty bewilders them. They are stunned. This starts them on their process of entering the cocoon. For now, they are fearful. They aren't able to say anything to anyone. They close in themselves. Everything they have ever understood, they are questioning. They feel they are disintegrating. But the next few weeks will bring a reorganization, as they and the Disciples start to encounter the risen Christ and as they all puzzle about what this means for them. At some point we know they will emerge and tell their story. We know this because how else does this story come to us, today? These women at the tomb may be afraid now, but soon they will soar on wings of beauty and the Good News will be evident in everything they do and say. They will embody that good news that brought about their own transformation and new life.

Some new discoveries have been made about caterpillars. They have within them tiny beginnings of wings and butterfly body parts. If you take apart a chrysalis, you can observe with a microscope the organs of the creature are still intact. There is something of the original creature in the transformed insect and there is something that remains that is born with the caterpillar or grub. In each of us, also, there is something Holy from the beginning and persisting, something that lasts. Call this the Christ Spirit. It is the spirit of God within each one of us, something beautiful and good and pure, the image of God in each of us. Maybe we too are born with something of what we will be already there. Made in God's image, we all have the Divine Spark, the love of God that will someday give us wings and the courage to open them in the breeze so that we can soar the way God intended, so that someday we will naturally live the way God intended at peace with one another and all Creation.

Some people are disturbed by the ending of this Gospel: “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” I love cliffhangers. I love movies with ambiguous endings. They keep me thinking about what might have happened next. More disturbing to me are stories and films in which all the pieces are tied up in a neat bow at the end. This is not how I have experienced life. I am always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Nothing in my life is neat and tidy. Those who have seen my office are nodding their heads. Childhood is a messy, experience which is never tied up neatly. Marriage is a big complicated mess. Being in a congregation is very messy and open-ended. And this Gospel is messy and open-ended, just like life.

This morning, I invite you to let the story sit with you. Let yourselves wonder what happened next, how this story got from this point that we read here with the women afraid and silent, to us knowing and telling and still trying to puzzle what the empty tomb means today in all our messy and puzzling lives. Easter isn't all pastel colors and baby chicks. It is a gaping tomb and the questions and the difficulties and life and death we all experience all the time. Easter meets us right where we are and takes us places we never expected, transforms us into something we could never have imagined, someone free and loved and truly alive and connected. Alleluia, Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Maundy Thursday 2015

I have been struck in recent years by the artwork of Harry Hargreaves, an artist from New Zealand who photographs the last meals of those who are on death row in his "No Seconds" series He says that his main goal is "to have the viewer identify with the prisoner though their meal request. I wanted the viewer to think of them as a person for a moment instead of them being anonymous."

Some of the meals that struck me were a bowl of ice cream, someone else had a bucket of KFC, another was from Texas where they stopped providing special last meals so he just ate what everyone else ate, chicken legs, mixed vegetables, and some soup and tea. Another plate had only a single olive on it. Other plates were empty, for those who had refused a last meal at all. And at least one prisoner ordered a very large and expensive meal and then refused to eat it—one final act of defiance.

Historians disagree on when last meals became standard among countries with the death penalty. Some believe that the tradition may have started back in ancient Greece and Rome. In some ancient accounts, the prisoner would share a meal with the executioner. Was this about reconciliation? Is it to give a picture of a more humane government authority? Why feed someone who is about to die? It doesn't make sense.

These meals are more than nutrition. They all say something different about the person eating them. Some of them are about reliving memories of more comfortable and pleasant times. Others seem to be making a statement about wealth or status. Still others are forms of protest, like those empty plates. They also all say, this is a human being, someone who ate and drank. This was someone's daughter or son, someone who enjoyed certain things, who brought people joy and brought them pain, someone who was born and will die.

There are many last meals in our lives. When I read the story of the passover, I think of meals I've eaten in haste, the car packed, our minds already on the journey. I remember a lunch I threw together a few years ago when my dad called in crisis. We ate this simple meal as we drove to this family emergency, solemnly on our way to go be with him in that terrible pain. I remember nursing my child for the last time, with mixed feelings, knowing I would be more free to be away from him, but also appreciating the connection that we shared and knowing more what it meant to fully nurture another human being. I remember meals with people I love who are no longer living, the warmth and laughter. And I remember meals where someone stomped off in a huff, where someone was offended. Before our son was born, we usually ate in front of the television. It was always something we vowed to changed, but never managed it until circumstances really forced us to do something different. Our child is still too young to tell us much about his day, but mealtime has become a time in which we talk about where our food came from and how and who prepared it, and to be nurtured with laughter and song. It is a time of deep connection and joy. It is a time of rejoicing and appreciation.

What does the last supper of the Israelites before they head out on their exodus say about them and what does Jesus' last meal say to us about who he is and who we are? Of course I think it says something different to us each time we consume this meal. Tonight and every Sunday when we celebrate the Lord's Supper we not only eat the last meal that Jesus ate before his execution, but we hear the words and remember what was most important to him. We seldom think of it according to its nutritional content, but instead we look at it a time of community, of unity with Jesus, hearing his words, receiving his promises, receiving God's grace, being forgiven, empowered, and filled so that we can try to share God's grace with friends and strangers during the coming week.

Communion is a time of eating with Jesus. It transcends time and space so that we hear the words he spoke that night. We eat the food he ate that night. That table at which we eat extends and becomes the communion table for all who share this feast, in all times and places, past, present, and future. We give thanks for the food we eat. We hope communion makes us all aware of the stuff of life that we need to keep going, both spiritually and physically. We give thanks for the fertility of the earth and all those who make it possible for us to eat, farmers and harvesters, those who grind grain, those who pick grapes. We share what is most basic in life. Communion is not sharing the most fancy food, but the basics of life, bread and drink. Every culture has these foods. They are inexpensive and available to all. We share what we have with others. Communion is about having enough for everyone, not gorging ourselves. A little bit goes a long way. We remember what Jesus taught us, especially about loving one another. We remember who he ate with—tax collectors and sinners, prostitutes and children and Pharisees. We come because we are all invited, not because we have done right or believed right. And we all stand in God's presence and receive God's presence. And even better that we join together, our two churches in communion and hand washing. It is so easy to see the same faces week after week and worship in our own special space, but now we truly do what Jesus wanted us to do, he wanted us to eat on the run, like the Israelites, to get out of our comfortable space so that we would see each other, so that we would see Jesus, so that we would experience a little bit of death ourselves, in letting go and starting over.

For the Israelites, the last meal, was not the last meal of course. They would never again eat in Egypt, and oh did they miss that food. But they had something better out there in the Exodus on their journey—they knew God's presence with them, they knew how to share, they learned a lot about themselves. Jesus last supper was not his last meal either. Once he rose from the dead, he ate some fish on the shore and shared some food with the Disciples. And we know that he promises a great feast when we are all gathered with him. Tonight, think of this as your last meal. When you wake Easter morning, and every morning you are a new creation, full of new possibilities. Now that you have been fed with this holy food, God's new life is coming to life in you. Go and live that life so that it spreads to others. Go and live God's love,. In this meal and community and neighborhood, be challenged, be willing to let go, and be raised to live once more in God's grace and love.