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Monday, November 30, 2015

2015 Sabbatical Pictures

Please click the link to see my sabbatical pics from May 2015.

November 29, 2015

Gospel: Luke 21:25-36 
1st Reading: Jeremiah 33:14-16
2nd Reading: 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among the nations. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world.” It seems like every generation has its beliefs about the destruction and end of the world. It seems we can always find a reason to faint from fear. 

In Jesus' time, in this prediction in the Gospel, he may have been referring to his own death. He was trying to prepare his disciples for his crucifixion, with the earthquake and eclipse, the days of uncertainty and fear when they would find themselves huddled in the upper room trying to figure out what to do next. He may have even been preparing them for the earth-shattering news that he is risen and that life is completely changed.

For the Gospel writer Luke, his audience was concerned with the destruction of the temple. For Jews, the temple is the center of the universe. If the temple falls, then the whole cosmos is at risk. Luke's readers had seen that destruction and now they were very afraid. It looked like the end of the world to them. They were very afraid.

In the 50s it was the threat of nuclear war. In our time it is the fear that we will change our climate so dramatically that we won't survive. Every generation has its fears about the end of the world.

Watching the news about the ISIS attacks in France a couple of weeks ago, brings up a lot of fears for us. Is it safe to go to public places this Christmas season? Should our country accept refugees? Who can keep us safe? 

In the face of such hatred and violence, including the violence our own country has done to those less powerful than us, to innocent people, it is easy to get discouraged. It is scary and overwhelming. Our faith gives us the strength not to let the fearful situation, whatever it is, dictate who we are. When the whole world is telling us to be fearful, we know how to find hope.

We have a choice about how we respond. As Christians, we have some tools in our toolbox to help us in times like this. One is the scriptures, stories of hope in the face of fear, which promise the presence and love and new life of God, no matter the circumstances. They tell us of Jesus who endured what any of us do and worse. We are not alone. Death is not the end. We have so much to be grateful for. We have a cosmic story to explain where sin and brokenness comes from, assurance of forgiveness and freedom, how to stand up and raise our heads when we are oppressed or afraid, and how God is ultimately the one with power. We know fear and death won't be the end of the story, that love is the real power in our world.

In Jesus' time, the disciples were afraid. But he did not leave them to shake and shiver in their room. He came and gave them the fire and boldness of the Holy Spirit, God's spirit with them for new life. Sure enough, they were able to go out from there, overcome their weaknesses and spread the good news.  We can choose love instead. Love can be our motivating factor, and when it is, the Kingdom of God is near and we are near to one another.

In Luke's time, the temple was destroyed, however people were learning that the location of God didn't depend on human buildings. Jesus located the temple in his body, he was God's presence here on earth, and when he introduced the Holy Spirit each person became a dwelling place for God. I have a quote from Archbishop Oscar Romero to share with you. “Advent should admonish us to discover in each brother or sister that we greet, in each friend whose hand we shake, in each beggar who asks for bread, in each worker who wants to use the right to join a union, in each peasant who looks for work in the coffee groves, the face of Christ. Then it would not be possible to rob them, to cheat them, to deny them their rights. They are Christ, and whatever is done to them Christ will take as done to himself. This is what Advent is: Christ living among us.” This is partly about Christ being born in Bethlehem or into our lives, and partly how Christ dwells in each one of us in love and how to recognize that and honor that. 
I don't know if you saw the youtube clip of the little French boy a couple of days after the Paris attacks. This kid is probably about 4 or 5 years old. He tells the reporter they will have to move away because of the bad guys. His dad says, no, they are not moving. There would be bad guys no matter where they lived. The boy and his dad are placing flowers at a memorial that day. He explains to his son that yes, the bad guys have guns, but the boy and his dad have flowers. He explains to his little boy that flowers are stronger than guns, that they are more powerful. He's talking about love and hope being more powerful than fear and hate, and even though hate kills, this father reassures his boy that love will win the day. It is a very moving conversation.

I remember in the hours after Sterling was born, my mind was racing. Images kept flashing across my mind—scary images of all the bad things that could happen to him. My hormone levels were changing fast in those first hours, as they do for all new moms. Thankfully, I had the support I needed, and I had some experience battling worry and negative thoughts in the past. I had to force myself to imagine all the wonderful things that would happen to him in his life. I pictured him learning and playing, discovering and appreciating, giving and receiving hugs and kisses, meeting family and friends, graduating, growing up, falling in love, having children, eating countless delicious meals, watching the clouds, feeling the breeze and on and on until I had retrained my brain in a new direction. I was anticipating the blessings that would likely come. Yes, bad things happen, too, but it doesn't do me any good to immerse myself in my fears. I knew I didn't want to raise a fearful child. I didn't want to be the anxious parent that my parents had been. 
It is easy for our heads to be filled with fearful images, worry, and anxiety. But is that really who we want to be? What good will it do? Is this what we want to define us? We have so much reason to have hope.

We have a couple of other tools in our toolbox. One, we practiced this week, gratefulness. We can give thanks. We can practice thanksgiving. When worries overtake us, one of the best things we can do is start thinking of everything we are grateful for. 
The second thing we can do is practice generosity. When we give to others, we forget our fears, we remember our blessings, we don't have time to feel sorry for ourselves. When we volunteer, when we wrap gifts for The Angel Tree Project, as we carry groceries for someone or help our neighbor rake her leaves, our fears don't seem so scary. 
There is another form of generosity we sometimes forget, we can be generous about how we interpret another person's actions. We can see the best in others. When we think of Syrian refugees, do we picture people who can do us harm and will take something away from us? We have a choice. I saw on the news a picture of refugees in the US serving homeless veterans on Thanksgiving. There is a positive image of people who are being vilified. Can we visualize all the good that can come from refugees—all that we will learn, all that we can gain?

Think of Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem, walking from place to place looking for shelter and a place to safely deliver the Christ Child. Maybe some did see them and think, there's no way we're letting those people in here. She looks like she's about to pop. The fear, the risk, the noise, the mess of a baby born there in their home. Maybe that's why they ended up out there with the animals. When God comes knocking on our door in whatever the form, whether it be a refugee, or a veteran with PTSD, or a kid with a juice stain on his upper lip, we have a choice. We can worry about what we will lose. We can slam that door and decide it isn't worth the mess or the time, and we will miss out on Christ in our midst. Or we can picture some good coming out of it, healing, relationship, love, hope, growth, and let Christ in.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

November 22, 2015, 50th Anniversary Sermon

Gospel: John 18:33-37 
1st Reading: Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
2nd Reading: Revelation 1:4b-8

A couple of us were joking the other day about changing the name of our church. Don't worry, we're not serious, but the word “king” is so removed from most people's experience that it can be hard to relate to, and then we've got it twice! We don't have kings, so we don't know much about living in a kingdom. Most of what I have gleaned about kings has come from fairy tales or Shakespeare plays. So far I've learned they are either really good or really bad, lots of times regular peasants are smarter than they are, and they are concerned about gold and who their daughter is going to marry. Is that what people think when they see our church sign or look at our website? It's a pretty male-centric name for a church in which women have such an important role. I do like that our name is focussed on the positive, that it is focussed on God. And I'm really glad, no offense to anyone else, that we aren't named First Lutheran or English Lutheran or something really stuffy. Our language has limits and it can be hard to find words that stand the test of time and convey what we're really about and who God really is.

There are actually many names for Jesus in the reading from Revelation this morning, because the writer was trying to make a long enough list that there would be something we could connect with, that would make sense. Some of these names are more Hellenistic, others are more from the Hebrew tradition. The writer covers a lot of bases with the various names for God offered here. We could be Faithful Witness Lutheran Church, Firstborn of the Dead Lutheran Church, Ruler of Kings Lutheran Church, Alpha and Omega Lutheran Church, or Almighty Lutheran Church. All of them have their limitations, don't they! And don't even get me started on how limiting and misunderstood the term “Lutheran” is! 

So here we are at Christ the King Sunday, and our 50th Anniversary, still asking who God is and who we are. And we get to look over the whole history of this congregation, share memories with guests from over the years, and experience a worship service that was similar to the first one ever, and read these ancient scriptures about what it means that Jesus is not only a king but the king of kings. What does it mean that we pray every week, “Thy Kingdom come?” What does it mean to live in and long for the Kingdom of God.

People are hungry in our neighborhood. 117 families came here this month to get food. We live in a world where at least a third of our food gets wasted from the farm, to grocery stores, to our refrigerators and cupboards, to our plates. We waste all this food and there are people who could really use it. Thy Kingdom come!

We had all these families come through this church this month, sitting in a warm environment, building community, helping each other. One long-time client came in to the office with an offer to put out the signs that we place in the parking lot on distribution days to make sure that our volunteers who have a harder time walking have a place to park near the building. He shared that he's lost about 50 lbs. He's on the last possible chemotherapy and he will probably die from it. We talked and shared each other's pain. We prayed. And then as people went to pick up their turkeys that were provided through the generous gift of one of our volunteers, they thanked us over and over, saying how much this meant to them. God's Kingdom is here.

We are destroying our planet, using it as a dump, stripping it of natural resources, ruining habitats, burning fossil fuels, and changing our climate. Storms are getting stronger. The ocean is rising. Coral reefs are dying. People are getting sick from pollution. We're in a mass extinction. Thy Kingdom come.

And people are getting together to make a change. Some are taking the pledge not to use pesticides in their yards. As a Master Gardener it is part of my responsibility to make people aware of the dangers of pesticide use and what the alternatives are. Some are using solar or wind power. Some are doing beach and waterways cleanups. Some are downsizing their households or going to only one car in their household. Some are dangling from bridges to see that oil exploration vessels can't pass. Some are planting gardens and trees. Others are riding their bicycles or taking mass transit. I was grateful the other day, when I had an appointment downtown, to park at the end of the Orange line and let the Max take me to my destination. God's kingdom is here.

We are a small church. Sometimes we get insecure about our future. Our average age is getting up there. We don't have Sunday School. We don't have a lot of money. Thy Kingdom come.

Yet, we're not alone. Look at all the lives we've influenced and have influenced us. We're much bigger than just who comes here on Sundays. You all are out there visiting the sick and homebound. This congregation more than tithes to other ministries, such as Backpack Buddies, the Pantry, and Lutheran World Relief. People here really care about each other. We're in partnership with other churches. And we're not just existing and making sure we survive, but we are listening to Jesus and responding to the needs of our neighbors. God's kingdom is here.

We're watching our presidential candidates duke it out on TV every other week to try to gain power and influence. They are blinded, sometimes by greed, sometimes by fear, and other times by pride or hubris. Sometimes they tell us what we want to hear. Sometimes they are so hateful and angry. Not many of us see anyone we can relate to or respect. Thy kingdom come!

Grassroots organizations are working together to make changes in our neighborhoods. Neighbors are helping each other. And we're all rolling our eyes at these candidates. We know by now that none of them can save us. But we have power to make a difference when we know each other and work together. So that's where we're going to put our energy. We have a new Social Justice Committee. Through MACG, we are looking into ways we can work together with the young moms from Madonna's Center down the street to make policy changes so they can get housing for themselves and their new babies, even if they aren't 18, yet. God's Kingdom is here.

God's Kingdom come! God's Kingdom is here. This is the already and not yet of the scriptures, God with us and God's reign not fully realized. It is frustrating and confusing to live in the in-between, but it also is a better way of thinking about our complex situation than saying it is all or nothing.

The word King doesn't cover it all, by any means. But it does come from the same root as the word “kin,” like family. And some have replaced the word Kingdom with Kindom in Christian prayers, to say that it isn't about a male person who happens to inherit a throne, but about a family of people who care for each other and make sure that each person is valued and loved. That's the good news for this morning. Wherever we worship, however we serve, we are in God's family, created good and loved and given abundant life. So maybe Kin Lutheran Church might be appropriate. Or I was suggesting Servant of Servants Lutheran Church, then at least we would be SOS instead of KOK. I think we'll stick with our name for now. Our community knows us by that name. And it is not just about us, but about the 50 years of servants that have gathered under this name.

About two weeks ago, a van pulled up in front of our house and a couple of women were standing on the sidewalk, looking up at our tree and talking quite excitedly. We were just pulling in the driveway and getting our groceries into the house. They were visiting from out of town. They lived in our house as little girls. Nick showed them the backyard and they talked about climbing a cherry tree that used to grow there. Thankfully I had done two loads of dishes that morning, so I could feel mostly comfortable inviting them in. They were so surprised and delighted. They were so polite, they never would have asked to come in. They talked about hiding in the cupboard and falling out of their bunk bed. They walked around the house reliving their memories and taking pictures to show their ailing mom back home. I had always wondered who lived there, and now I know one more piece of the puzzle. 

Well, others have lived here, and these are our guests who have come to look around and share memories and worship God together. I have sometimes wondered how the charter members or the other names I see written in the registry thought of this place and what were the expectations and how did it strengthened or frustrated them, and how God spoke to people here, over the years. And now you are here. Welcome. Your very presence shows that you were touched by this place and maybe you are curious who is living in your old house. Well, the one thing that has stayed the same is that Jesus is here. Not that he's not other places as well, but he is the one this house belongs to, he is the one we thank, he is the one who has remained the same. He is the one who has continued to be alive and to rule and to serve. Whatever good has come from this place is because of Jesus and because of love. Through us or despite us, at the same time, God has shared abundant life here. We don't know what the future brings, but only that Jesus walks among us empowering us, challenging us, and loving us, and when this place is no longer here and long after we are gone from this earth, Jesus will continue to reign, our King of Kings, our example of servanthood, bringing abundant life until his reign is fully realized.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

November 15, 2015

Gospel: Mark 13:1-8 
1st Reading: Daniel 12:1-3 
2nd Reading Hebrews 10:11-25

I've had a song stuck in my head all week. It's part of the opening credits to a show I like called “The Leftovers” about a bunch of people left behind after a mysterious, rapture-like disappearance of millions of people from the earth. The song was written by Iris Dement in 1993 and it goes like this:

Everybody's wonderin' what and where they all came from.
Everybody's worryin' 'bout where they're gonna go when the whole thing's done.
But no one knows for certain and so it's all the same to me.
I think I'll just let the mystery be.

Some say once you're gone you're gone forever, and some say you're gonna come back.
Some say you rest in the arms of the Savior if in sinful ways you lack.
Some say that they're comin' back in a garden, bunch of carrots and little sweet peas.
I think I'll just let the mystery be.

It isn't always easy to let the mystery be. We humans are curious by nature. We want to know how things work and how they are going to turn out. The people in the book of Daniel were getting frustrated. They were in a time of great persecution—Judaism had been outlawed, the temple desecrated, and their leaders co-opted. But they didn't see the people who were hurting them get what was coming to them. They noticed that life wasn't fair. Good things happened to bad people and bad things happen to good people and it didn't make any sense. So this is the first time that people were thinking of an afterlife. If it doesn't happen in this life that people get what they deserve, then maybe it is in the next life that people are rewarded or punished in heaven or hell. 

Maybe it sounds like they aren't letting the mystery be as the song suggests. They are actually imagining one possible end to this terrible situation they are in that might work for them.

Sterling has nightmares a few times a month. One person suggested to me that it might be helpful to have him imagine another possible ending to the dream than the scary one he experienced. He is finally old enough now that he can do that. Maybe the Jewish people here can bear their situation by imagining some outcomes that they can live with. Maybe their vision of another outcome would be enough to give them hope to go on. How can they not let the political situation of that time derail their faith and make them give up? How can they not let the injustice distract them from their focus on serving and loving God? They don't just picture the demise of their enemies, but they picture their guardian angel, Michael, looking over them, as well as the wise shining brightly and being recognized, and those who lead many to righteousness shining like the stars. In those days, folks thought the stars were angels in the sky. The heavens, the realm of God, seemed so far away, yet visible, accessible. Many people I know today, still look up at the stars and see their loved one who has passed away watching over them. Some even have a particular star they associate with their loved one. This brings those who seem far away, near enough to feel the comfort of their presence. The shining of the righteous ones is a beautiful outcome and alternate story to the nightmare they were living.

The people that the Gospel writer Mark was writing to also were in some scary times. Probably the temple had been destroyed. There were wars and rumors of wars. There were earthquakes and famines. They could picture one possible outcome to all of this—everything they new would be destroyed and their faith would falter. But Jesus offers them a hopeful picture. He tells them another ending to their story to give them hope and preserve them in faith. He says not to put their hope in things that are temporary, even impressive buildings. And he tells them that all these scary things are not an end, but a beginning. They are “but the beginning of the birth pangs.” Something new is being born. Even though it is a scary time, this is also a hopeful time. He doesn't tell them exactly what will be born. He leaves that to their imaginations, so each can take the story where God leads them, but they know it will be different from what has been going on, those who persecute them won't be in power anymore, God's good purpose will be fulfilled, something new will be born that will be good.

This week, we celebrated Veterans Day. I can't imagine the nightmare that soldiers experience in war. I am sure that they must hold a vision of a different future than the violent one they see before them in order to endure. I have heard that soldiers hold first in their minds their brothers and sisters in arms. They give their all for the well-being of the soldiers fighting beside them. Certainly, they hold in mind the welfare of their loved ones back home. And finally, they picture their country, free and bold, caring for all within our borders, protecting those in need, providing meaningful work and progress, as well as the beauty of our nation, the mountains and forests, rivers and fields. What a beautiful vision to give hope, an ending to this nightmare that they could live with and even thrive in.

And as we all watched the news all weekend, it makes us feel helpless and afraid. Maybe we picture our enemies being destroyed, but more than that I think God tells us not to lose hope, that justice will be served, and that one day we'll all sit down together at one table, understand and value each other, and live in peace and unity. It seems impossible right now. There is a lot of grieving to do, a lot yet to be sorted out. But God is with all of us as hurting people, whatever country we are from, or whatever our religion. 

Even the reading from Hebrews helps people envision a different future. Have you ever been disappointed by your priest and wondered why you keep coming to worship week after week when nothing ever seems to change and people are hypocritical? Are there times you've felt unworthy of God's love? Do you sometimes feel that nothing lasts? Do you get frustrated by all the injustice and hate all around us? We're not going to gloss over it and pretend that its all right. We're going to find a way to hold fast to hope and that is to look to Jesus Christ.

Let Jesus be your hope. Let him offer an alternate ending to the story that causes the paralyzing fear that we constantly live with. Christ is the one who always has been and always will be, the reliable one. Christ is one who judges and forgives, who invites us into his family, who knows what we're going through, who gave it all up for us. Christ is the powerful one, who is the source of all creativity, who is the breath of God moving in this world, who brings life out of death. Christ is our hope. He always fulfills his promises. He is always present with us. He is compassionate and loving.

The temptation is not to let the mystery be or to let God's alternate vision guide us, but to decide who is at fault and what all the answers are, right away. In our fear, we sometimes think that violence is the answer, swift and strong. Sometimes we move so quickly to blaming that we never look at our own complacency or our own country's roll in training killers or making weapons that destroy. It is hard to let the mystery be and say, “I just don't know. I don't know why someone would do this. I don't know the proper response that won't just make things worse. I don't know. But I do hurt, and not just for the people of France who look more like me, but the people of Kenya and Syria and Baghdad where this kind of violence is more commonplace.” And when we do watch the footage of people running in fear, that we also have in mind God's vision where there will be no more crying, where the wolf will lie down with the lamb, where all will be fed and loved.

The point is not to get distracted from our journey of faith by fearful visions and nightmares that lead us astray. Instead, if we can let ourselves picture that goal of what the Kingdom of God looks like, we won't lose our way. We'll be able to enter the sanctuary with confidence, not because of anything we've done, but because of who Jesus is and the welcome he offers. We'll be able to hold fast to our confession of hope instead of getting led astray by those who promise to save us with false promises and fancy buildings. We'll be able to provoke each other to good deeds, inspire one another to keep going, to try to make a difference. And we'll be able to encourage one another and ourselves in the process. God has a beautiful vision which God is bringing into being. We can catch glimpses of it, as God Kingdom comes, breaks into our world. It is a vision of peace and love and it isn't just a dream, but it is a promised reality that is yet to fully become, but we can catch glimpses of it. We see it when people help each other, when people share something of themselves and connect with one another. Jesus is our most clear glimpse of God's Kingdom, always inviting, giving of himself, staying connected, offering healing, offering relationship, and never blaming or resorting to violence. Instead he lived God's love until it was more than people could stand. And when we killed him, he did not come back to give us what we deserved, but loved us and claimed us God's precious children.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

November 8, 2015

Gospel: Mark 12:38-44
1st Reading: 1 Kings 17:8-16
2nd Reading: Hebrews 9:24-28

“As Jesus taught, he said, 'Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows' houses.'” The truth of this teaching of Jesus always brings up a lot of emotions for me. First, I always think of some of the televangelists from the '70s and '80s who were very rich, with mansions and limos, pleading and crying and reading scripture to manipulate poor widows at home to send them their last dime. This makes me so angry. But I also feel ashamed, because I as a pastor get lumped in with these thieves, and I know that's what some people think of when they think of religion or church—religious leaders swindling people out of what little they have to line their own pockets. Now, thankfully we have safeguards in our congregation and in our larger church structure to make sure that donations actually go where we say they do and that people are not shamed or manipulated into giving. There is transparency to our budget and a congregational discussion and vote about where the money goes that each of you donates. I am quite proud of the amount of money this congregation gives away to those in need, both the pantry and in a tithe to the Oregon Synod and national church, who feed the poor, fund ministry grants, give scholarships and camperships, provide mosquito nets and emergency relief from natural disasters. Lutheran World Relief consistently receives the highest marks for the greatest percentage of gifts going to help people in need. They keep their administrative costs low and work through partner agencies on the ground in the particular area experiencing the need to make sure that the local culture is honored and actual needs met during a particular crisis.

The other thing this reading brings to mind is income disparity and the gap between the poor and the rich—the way the rich control more and more of the world's wealth. The economy is set up this way, to benefit a few. It wasn't always this way. The early years of this nation's capitalistic economy was balanced by our moral values, of caring for the poor and making sure that widows and all those in need were cared for. Churches and synagogues played an important part in making sure that we remembered these values when we voted and as we went about our day and our business. But as our churches have lost power and religion is viewed with more skepticism, we've lost that influence and story that our lives aren't just about amassing money and things, but that we need to care for the most vulnerable. We've lost the story that we are all connected, and that my wellbeing has anything to do with that widow's wellbeing. In some ways the church's losing influence and power is our fault—a few leaders abused their power, they abused their parishioners, they lied and stole. Many more of us pointed the finger at other people instead of taking the stick out of our own eye, so now religion is seen as judgmental. Other parts of the story are shaped by outside influences—the story that we deserve what we earn, that people who don't have much are just lazy, and that we need more and more things to keep us happy. These are stories cultivated by our consumer culture. 

The scribes had lost the story of their faith in Jesus' time, too. Their scriptures told them feed the poor and care for widows and orphans. However, they were more interested in their own power and influence. They had forgotten that we are all connected and that the widow had anything to do with them. They were telling themselves a new story, a lie, that they needed more and more and more and they deserved it and God was blessing them because they were special, or that God wasn't paying much attention at all. In the meantime, they were missing God right there in their midst, in Jesus and in the widow. And they were missing a greater connection, a greater peace. Instead of peace, they experienced this uneasiness and insecurity and fear that they would be found out for what they really were, that they could lose everything and no one would care. Any of us could become the widow at any time, alone and helpless.

Finally, environmental degradation comes to mind, as it often does, for me. In order to provide for the desires of the rich, it is the poor who suffer the environmental consequences. In order for me to have my I-phone, poor people mine dangerous chemicals deep in the earth, ruining their health, and destroying the land that should sustain them. Trash incinerating facilities are consistently built in poor neighborhoods, leading to asthma in people who can't afford to move away from there or take time off work to protest. Those of us rich enough to drive and fly places we like to go are burning up the oil, adding to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and heating things up. The people most adversely affected are those who rely on fishing for their livelihood, who live near the sea where levels are rising, those who rely on the land or the forest as topsoil degrades and trees are burned. 

To keep the priests in fine robes, to keep all of us in the latest styles of clothes and technology, the poorest people pay the price. Rather than gaining in prosperity, most of them find themselves trapped in a cycle of poverty and even their ability to grow their own food or live on the land their family has lived on for centuries is no longer an option as the land is poisoned or water becomes scarce in times of prolonged drought in the new climate we are experiencing. We will end up destroying ourselves if we don't change our direction by changing our story, if we don't quit lying to ourselves.
Thankfully, we haven't fully lost the true story. We live in a culture that is telling us lies. Sometimes we believe those lies, in fact a lot of times. Still we know there is something more, there has to be something better. So we come here to be reminded of our story—the story of what God values, the story of what really matters in the long run, the story of sacrifice, the story of new and abundant life. I've bombarded you with bad news, here comes the good news.

We have an important story. It is the story of a world created good and balanced for the thriving of all life. It is a story in which humans make mistakes and learn from them, in the presence of God who loves and forgives. It is a story of the interconnectedness of us all, plants, animals, humankind, rich and poor. It is a story of sharing and healing, brokenness and connectedness. We know this story deep inside us and it is a story the world needs to hear, in order to heal, to come to a point where we can change the course of where we're headed. The Gospel is clear that a small group can make a difference—it only takes a little salt to season a whole dish, if we can get our light out from under the bushel basket, it will light up the room, a tiny bit of yeast raises the whole loaf, the one sacrifice of Jesus is sufficient to give us new life.

These are some of the values that we must lift up from the Bible, that will help. Participation—everyone is empowered to have a voice, to use their gifts, to have a say. We've seen this value lifted up in the story from a couple of weeks ago, when Jesus Disciples were complaining to him that some people were casting out demons and healing people without permission from Jesus. Jesus said, “If they are not against us, they are for us.” Let them do God's work. You don't need special permission to participate.

Another value is sufficiency—this is about basic needs. The widow's needs are more important than the scribes. The scribes don't need a thing, but they take, take, take. The widow has nothing to live on. Her needs must come first.

Another is equity—fairness. When I think of equity, I think of the scripture from Galatians chapter 3, “There is no Jew or Greek, male or female.” There is another from several scriptures, “God shows no partiality.”

Another is accountability—transparency, people know how decisions are made and there are structures and procedures for hold decision-makers accountable. We might think of the shalom process from Matthew in which when you have a quarrel with your neighbor, go to him or her and work it out alone. But if that person won't listen, bring someone with you. If that doesn't work, take it to the elders, and then finally if it can't be resolved, someone may have to be removed from the community. We don't ignore problems, but there is a process and procedure to help us make a better community and world.

Then there is simplicity—having fewer possessions. Remember the rich man who was greatly grieved when Jesus told him to give up all he owned and follow him? Remember Lent when we simplify our lives to focus more on God's love.

Then there is responsibility—the fact that there are consequences for our actions. The consequences for the scribes actions of having to have fancy clothes and the places of honor, is that poor people don't have enough. The consequences of our use of biofuel, means that people who have corn as their staple food can't afford it anymore. 

Finally, there is something called subsidiary, in which the people who get to make the decisions are those who are most affected. For example, those who get to decide whether a tree is cut down might be the immediate neighbors, and might even be the creatures who live in that tree. We see this in the Bible when Jesus interacts with people who don't usually have a voice, where those who are sick are the ones to decide to seek a cure in Jesus presence, and actively participate in their own health. Or remember Naaman who is told to go wash in the river Jordan? He almost refuses, but with the encouragement of others who are affected by his disease, he does it and his leprosy is healed.

According to one definition, sin is wild arrogance, and grace is setting limits. For instance, we know by now that if we eat the whole package of Oreos in one sitting we will get sick. We know that because at one time or another we ate too many cookies in a moment of selfishness and uncontrolled desire. Eat one or two, and there is something beautiful. Refuse to eat them all yourself and share some with others and you're building community. That is what grace looks like. Even better if we share something nutritious and life-giving! To set a limit is to combine your trips, to set the timer for your shower, to walk or ride your bicycle, to eat less meat, to live in a smaller house or apartment. To set limits, is to experience grace, God with us when we have less and more to share with others. One example I have from riding my bicycle. I was just wanting to ride my bicycle for fitness and to try to use less gasoline. However, I have found that when I am not in my car, it makes it easier to greet people and make eye contact. The other day at the library, a homeless man was on his bicycle, too, and we made eye contact and greeted one another and Sterling remarked on that nice man who smiled at him. We made a connection. We experienced grace.

I want to caution us about the story of these two widows , that we don't decide if we are poor to give away all we have, or if we are rich to decide we don't have to help the poor because God will take care of that by a miracle. The story is an inspiration to us who are rich, to give more and to take care of those who need our help, like the widow gives away her last coin or her last biscuit. It is no less a miracle that we help one another and make sure that no one has an empty cupboard or frig. In fact, what a gift to be part of the miracle!

It is God's love and grace that make sure there is enough food and basic necessities to go around. God created this world for life, this earth shares with us and we share with each other. We know we can limit ourselves, because of the inspiration of our Savior who limited himself from being all knowing and all powerful to being a human with all our aches and pains and worries limitations. We know to limit our impact on this earth, despite it being inconvenient for us, so that it can continue to provide a bounty for all inhabitants. We know how to share because God showed us how to share through the life and death of Jesus Christ. Jesus is finally the widow, the one no one cares about, who gives his last coin to save us all and to make us his family. He lives to show us how to live the values that are life-giving and empowering. He dies to show us how to let go. He rises again to show us that isn't the end of the story. God can turn this world around, working through us, a miracle of sharing, a miracle of caring for one another, a miracle of abundant life.