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Monday, November 21, 2016

November 20, 2016 Christ the King Sunday

Gospel: Luke 23:33-43 
1st Reading: Jeremiah 23:1-6
2nd Reading: Colossians 1:11-20

We were talking about how busy families are these days, and one of the neighboring pastors told us a little story. He was visiting one of those busy families and they had five calendars stuck to their refrigerator. One schedule for the mom and one for the dad and one each for the two children. In the center of all four was the church calendar. The pastor was really touched. This was a family they saw at some church activity about once a month, but they had placed that calendar in the center so they could remember they were part of something bigger than themselves and to remind themselves of priorities and their church family.

That got me to wondering what God's calendar looks like. There are some who want God's calendar to be full of things like “Smite my enemies,” or “Find me a parking spot."

However, God's leadership model seems to be more like a shepherd's calendar, like in the first reading for this morning. Guide the sheep to green pastures, keep watch for wolves, clean and bind any wounds on the sheep, stay near the flock. The Israelites wanted a king, begged God for a king. They wanted someone to further their interests, to give them military power, and to lead them to greatness. They wanted a strong leader. Their calendar was full of efforts to this end.

However, God was trying to talk them out of it. Like we tried to explain to Sterling when he begged and begged us to buy him Magic Tracks, it is a cheap toy that doesn't last very long. It breaks easily. Same with the King. It usually doesn't go very well. And as sure as most of the Israelite Kings were crooks which needed to be returned to the store, I found myself in Walmart, exchanging Magic Tracks within one week, because the gears of the car were broken. 

It turns out that God's interests and priorities are very different from human interests and priorities. God has little interest in strength and might where people force others to do what they want them to. God is interested in all God's creation and the well being of each creature, so is more interested in sharing power and making sure each one is cared for and receiving basic needs for abundant life.

The last thing the Israelites expected to see on their Messiah's calendar was “Get arrested,” “Be mocked,” or “Die on the cross.” The leaders stood there mocking him, saying, “He saved others, let him save himself.” They thought saving himself would be a priority on Jesus' calendar. 

But Jesus showed us from the very beginning of his ministry that wasn't the kind of leader he would be. Do you remember when he was tempted in the wilderness after his baptism? He hadn't eaten a bite in 40 days and Satan encouraged him to make bread out of stones. But Jesus pointed out that one doesn't live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. Jesus didn't put it on his calendar to save himself or avoid suffering, however if there was a crowd to feed, he put that on his calendar more than once. 

Sometimes Christians believe that to be Christian is to avoid suffering, that we should be spared pain, and even that God promises that to us. We know that God promises us life everlasting and abundant life. We may picture any number of wonders and pleasures in heaven, in the Paradise that Jesus promises to the thief on the cross. 

However, Jesus' life teaches us that we don't get special treatment or an easier life because we are Christian. Jesus is our example. He was born in a stable, he didn't have a fancy cradle. He was a traveling preacher, having nowhere to lay his head, often frustrated with his disciples, unconcerned about earthly comforts or riches or power. He didn't need to be treated as more important than other people, maybe because he was fully aware of who he was as the Son of God. We don't need that either. We are God's people—will always be children of God. That doesn't give us any special status or guarantee us an easier life. It does mean we have the comfort of knowing that God is with us even when we find ourselves suffering.

The danger of believing that we should have it easier, if God loves us, is that when we see someone else suffering, we might be tempted to believe they are getting what they deserve. Jesus helped point out again and again the falsehood of that kind of thinking. Remember when someone asked him, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” And Jesus replied, “Neither this man's sin or that of his parents caused this.” Instead think of this is an opportunity to behold the glory of God, and then Jesus heals the man of his blindness.

Jesus didn't just suffer for suffering's sake. He faced pain because he spoke out against the injustices in his day. He spoke up because the rules against picking even a single stalk of wheat on the sabbath were hurting people who were hungry. He spoke up because people were ready to throw stones at a woman, when they had all committed similar sins. He spoke up when children were pushed aside, when the word of God was misused to keep people down, and when people were rejected by society for arbitrary reasons. He spoke up and he paid the price for crossing those in power. However, the pain he faced on the cross was nothing compared to the pain he felt every time he encountered injustice. Because he was so uncomfortable with the world as it was, the way the powers of this world benefitted some at the expense of others, the way the powers of this world crushed vulnerable people, made their lives miserable and cut their lives short, because of this he had to speak up. This speaking up made him a target, by those who wanted to keep the system benefitting a few, and so he was tortured and executed to try to shut him up. 

This is the kind of King Jesus is for us. As one who created this world, he was in pain seeing this world misused, so far from the vision he had for it from the beginning. He could not remain silent or removed. He walked alongside all those whom this world rejected and he paid dearly with his life. The way he was killed was meant to intimidate anyone else threatening the powers of this world—this is what is in store for you, too, if you stand up and express the pain this world brings and stand with those who are hurting and oppressed and dare to say, “This isn't right!” Many of this world's injustices do benefit you and me. We are so removed from the pain we benefit from that often we are unaware. That is why it is important for us to walk side by side with people who are less powerful than we are and to understand their lives and what they go through. 

Pain isn't the only thing on our calendar, though. Pain isn't where we stay. Jesus says, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Paradise—it sounds so good. When the Israelites were asking for a King, paradise was what they wanted to create for themselves—a realm where their interests were furthered, where peace reigned for them, where they would prosper and grow. When Jesus promises paradise, he pictures the Garden of Eden. Paradise is the original view of creation—all creatures in balance, God walking with people, everything created beautiful and good, relationships flourishing, all creatures fruitful and multiplying. But as humans grasped at power, like Adam and Eve in the garden eating of the tree to gain power for themselves, like the kings using force to gain power to further their own interests, like any of us trying to get our way at the expense of someone else, we fell into sin and brokenness and this world was not like the one God created in a lot of ways.

So here's Jesus. Paradise, in his mind, isn't for the few. On the last day of his calendar, he has a vision coming true for all of us. It is abundant life and the interests of all God's creation, and the flourishing of all life. And so pain isn't the vision we're left with, it is part of the path that Jesus walks to bring us Paradise, and the path we walk as Jesus followers as he brings justice and peace and paradise to all that he has created. In some ways, God is still creating us, making us a new people whose priorities are not just ourself anymore, but closer match God's own priorities.

According to my calendar, it is Christ the King Sunday. Christ is our King, not President Obama, not President elect Trump, not fear, not any other ruler but Christ. So pull out your calendars, and put there some opportunities to speak against the powers of death in this world that crush people. Come and volunteer at the pantry. Stand side by side with people who are hungry and hear their stories of pain. Come to our next Social Justice meeting December 13 at 3 pm or our next Clackamas Housing team meeting December 15 at 2 pm at Milwaukie Lutheran, find yourself a soup kitchen to volunteer at, or head down to the senior center and sit with someone who is lonely, visit someone with me this month who is homebound from our congregation. You will find pain there, but you will also find joy and paradise and love and understanding. You will find the Kingdom of God because Jesus' reign has begun.

Monday, November 14, 2016

November 13, 2016

Gospel: Luke 21:5-19 
1st Reading: Malachi 4:1-2a
2nd Reading: 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

I've mentioned before that I'm not so good at transitions, at changing gears. I have learned the same is true of young children. We give a ten minute warning before we go anywhere. We give a ten minute warning before we expect toys to start to be cleaned up. We give a ten minute warning before meals, before bathtime, and so on, so our guy can adjust to what is coming next.

And at the end of the day, we transition. On an ideal night, usually while we get pajamas on, we spend some time talking about lessons learned, people we met, what was fun and what was difficult. We take some time for appreciations. I try to tell Sterling that I was proud when he took some action or another, or when he was kind. I thank him for good behavior. I am sure to tell him he is loved. And then we talk about what tomorrow will bring. What kind of a day will it be? Will it be a preschool day or mommy/Sterling day or mommy/daddy/Sterling day, or church day? Will we be going anywhere in particular, or need to get up early? Should we lay some clothes out or make any other preparations?

In our country, we are at a transition. Some of us would be more comfortable if tomorrow didn't look so different from today, and some of us are rejoicing that tomorrow will be different from today. Some of us are afraid the sun is setting on compassion, a stable economy, and respect. Others of us are pleased the sun is setting on government insiders and entitlements. We have some major changes ahead. 

The reading from the Old Testament, this morning talks about the coming day. The sun is setting on evildoers and the arrogant. The Israelites are in Babylon, in exile. They want the sun to set on their current chapter, but it also means the sun setting on almost everything they've ever known. A generation has passed, and they are there in Babylon, so integrated that they use imagery of the Babylonian god, a solar disk with wings, when they picture the next chapter of their lives, “the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.”

“The day is surely coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all the evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up.” The temptation is to put everyone who disagrees with us in this category of arrogant evildoers. However, I had to think during my post election shock, that maybe I had been the arrogant one. I hadn't prepared myself for this outcome. All of us do evil. All of us are arrogant in various amounts. But the good news here is that evil won't last. That part of us will have to go away. It will be removed by life experience, by falling, by unexpected turns of events. That part of us that does evil and hurts those around us will not last. The sun will set on that part of all of us. But the sun doesn't set without rising again. The sun of righteousness shall rise. In the Old Testament reading, they use the imagery of the rising sun to talk about God and the healing God offers. When the sun comes up, it is a new day. New possibilities emerge, hope continues. Isn't that gorgeous imagery of the sun of righteousness, God, rising with healing in its wings, soaring, inspiring, flying free?

In the reading from 2 Thessalonians, the sun is setting on idleness. The people of that time and place thought the second coming would be any day now, so some of them were just waiting it out, sitting around. But they were missing out on contributing toward Kingdom work, bringing God's Kingdom in by their actions. They were missing out on a key experience of the body of Christ, Christian community, when they were sitting around. Community is built in shared experiences, and some were refusing to participate. 

“Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” In some ways, I feel like the election was trying to affirm this value. It seemed to be a reaction against undocumented immigration, and welfare, and foodstamps, so-called free-loaders. The ones who were sitting idle in the Thessalonians reading, though, were the rich. They weren't used to doing work. They had servants for that. They thought it was below them. Paul knew they had something to learn by working and to share the burden of the cost but also the work. When we work, when stand side by side ladling soup into a bowl for the homeless families served by the SON network, or with pruners on church cleanup day, or sharing the bread and wine on Sunday morning, or with a clean pair of socks, washing the feet of someone who is unloved, we are joined in Christ's body in a new way, and healing does rise on those wings of the sun of righteousness.

“Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” Children are idle, should they not eat? The elderly are occasionally idle, should they not eat? Would we not feed our pets, because they do not work? No one would be so cruel. Some people have given up on looking for a job, because no one will consider them, and are idle because they are discouraged. I talk to Janis, there is no housing in her price range, not even as far away as Vernonia. She hasn't given up yet, but she sure feels like it. To all these, Jesus says, “Come to the table of mercy and share my body and blood.” The truth is, we are all free-loaders. We all benefit from workers being paid less than what they need to live. We benefit from undocumented workers picking our fruits and vegetables and nuts and yet we send them a strong message they aren't welcome here by our votes, and perhaps now we will see what our country is like without them. 

We are all free-loaders, since we are created by God. Did any of us make ourselves? We are all here by the grace of God. We are all children of God, we are all loved by God. And we are free-loaders, as Christians. We don't get God's love by working. We didn't die for our own sins or each others. God did all the work of creating this world. We are doing all the work of destroying it. Jesus did all the work of giving us an example of God's love embodied and lived. Jesus did all the work of dying on the cross. We all sit idle at the foot of the cross, because ultimately we are helpless. But that is good news, too. Christ loves us helpless ones and claims us all as God's children.

Finally we come to the Gospel. Here is the temple—so inspiring, so beautiful. But Jesus only sees a pile of stones. He doesn't see why people are so proud. This is a temporary structure and doesn't matter compared to everything else. He knows that temple was built on the backs of everyday people. He knows the earth was torn apart to make it. He knows what bodies were crushed under stones to move them to that location. He was there when the rocks were formed. He is not impressed. He says, “Big deal!” You're focussed on the wrong things! Look around you at the people God is making God's temple. Treat them as well as you do this pile of rocks. This is where you find God, in one another, and especially in those you've disregarded. Of course, Luke wrote this after the temple was destroyed. Jesus is reassuring the early Christians Luke was addressing everyone that the end of the temple is not the end of God's reign or God's love. And he's reminding us not to put our trust in buildings. That's not what God's church is about, not what God's love is about.

Both sides in this election have been saying, “If the other candidate wins, that's going to be the end of the world.” These readings fall at the end of the church year (did you know we are in a transition in the church year, too. The beginning of the church year is in 2 weeks), and point to the end times which will herald Jesus' return. We are at an end, the sun is setting on something. Something is ending—maybe just the current Presidential coming to the end of his term, maybe more. Something is rising—and I won't let it be hatred and fear, for me. The first thing we did Wednesday morning before Bible Study was to pray together. Maybe the sun is rising on our own penitence, turning us in prayer toward God, opening our eyes and hearts in devotion.

What is surely rising is God's love and healing. That is the promised outcome. I am standing here in the rubble, the stones have fallen of the temples I have built to my own ideas. God never needed those stacks of rocks. God just wants to love us and to bring in the Kingdom so that everyone would experience God's love. Whatever is coming next, I hereby re-commit myself to working for the Kingdom. Where there is hatred, I will strive to be loving. Where vulnerable people are insulted and attacked, I will stand up for them. Where our planet is being pillaged, I will work to build up. Where families are torn apart, I will shelter them. Where people are told they are nobodies, I will remind each one, you are a child of God, loved by God, claimed and valued, you are part of the body of Christ, one with us and with Christ who is rising with healing in his wings. But not just me, but our congregation, our neighbors, all those who believe in the power of love and the power of God. 

At this transition, let us look back on lessons learned. Let us show appreciation to one another. And let us look ahead with hope, prepared to act on behalf of the poor and neglected, as Jesus would.

So, we turn now, to a remembrance of baptism, to remind ourselves who we are, children of God, and to remember that we don't belong to one party or nation or race, but we are one in Christ Jesus, our Savior.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

All Saints Day 2016

All our lives people try to tell us what really matters, what is most important.
Sometimes they say what is most important is having lots of money.
Sometimes they say what is most important is having lots of really yummy food.
Sometimes they say what is most important is having lots of nice clothes.
Sometimes they say what is most important is people saying lots of nice things about you.
All of those things are nice to have, but God says they are not most important.

In fact they can get in the way of our faith in God.
If we have lots of great stuff, we may think that we don't need God, that we can get what we want all by ourselves. We might run out of places to put things. We might not have in mind other people's needs who don't have enough food. We might be so busy trying to impress other people that we forget what impresses God.

God isn't impressed by money or food or clothes because God knows they don't last. Food gets eaten or rots, money gets spent and people aren't any happier, and we outgrow our clothes. 

Do you know the one thing we never outgrow? God's love. God has always loved you and always will. Love is the one thing that lasts, that we never outgrow, that everyone has.

God asks us be loving, too. That's why we say that God lives in our hearts, because that is where we say our loving comes from.

What are some ways to be loving? To share, to take turns, to let someone else have a chance to shine
(Share a way we've seen each child being loving.)

Sometimes people tell us that what is most important is being strong. Sometimes another child might hurt others on the playground, or hit someone to show their strength. Jesus tells us that isn't most important either. Remember God loves you and you don't deserve to be treated like that. Jesus asks to be loving, but also doesn't say to let them keep attacking us.

I wonder if we could think of some loving ways to respond to someone who hits us or tries to hurt us.

Tell an adult. When someone hurts you, I want you to be sure to tell an adult that you trust, like your teacher or your parents. That is loving because an adult might be able to teach the child a better way to communicate.

Find a way to be safe. Maybe spending time with different friends who treat you better. That is loving to yourself and that's good too.

Stay calm and confident, if you can. Maybe the most shocking thing to a bully is to let them know they don't scare you. Remember, you have what is most important and that is God's love. Don't let them ruin your day.

Today is All Saints Day. All of you are Saints. Saints are the people in our lives who have helped to teach us about what is most important, God's love. There are saints who are living, right here in this room, but there are also saints who have died who are with God. We can't see them anymore, but they are in our hearts whenever we remember them. I invite some folks in the congregation to share a little something they've learned from one of the saints they love. 

Each person who shares receives a paper heart. This is a reminder that the saints remain in our hearts and of God's love for all of God's children.

Reformation Day 2016

Gospel: John 8:31-36 
1st Reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34
2nd Reading: Romans 3:19-28

Reform us, O God, reform us.

You made us very good, O God, in your image, generous and caring and compassionate, a beautiful creation working together with every other part. And you created us to be in relationship with you. But you also did not make us robots. You gave us free will, so we would be free to make our own choices. This freedom sometimes causes us great joy and sometimes causes us great harm. We give you thanks O God that we have minds of our own, that life is more interesting because it could go any number of directions, and that you stay in relationship with us, even when we wander away.

You made this beautiful child, Pepper. She reminds us of more innocent times, when life was simpler. She is certainly in your image, O God, good and loving and curious and creative, but as she moves through life, we teach her our bad habits. Her choices are currently mostly about getting her own needs met, which she needs to survive. She also already shows compassion and forgiveness to family and friends and acquaintances and strangers. We will try to guide her by being good examples, by teaching her our values of love and forgiveness, by reading to her stories from the Bible and helping her to understand the faith journey of those who have gone before and sharing the love of Jesus with her. Yet she will see that we make compromises, that we break your laws, that we are hypocrites. She will decide for herself, as she grows, which paths to take. She will bump up against decisions that don't have a right answer, in which someone will get hurt either way. She will take paths when the consequences aren't clear, otherwise she will be choosing to be paralyzed, which is a damaging path all on its own. She is beautiful and made in your image and will experience great joy in life and hopefully even change the world for the better, and she will bump up against people who will hurt her feelings, whose waste of resources make her life harder, who tempt her to go against her values, and she will sin and she will fall and she will have wounds and brokenness and eventually she will die. This is the path of all of us. But you will never abandon her, O God. That's your promise. You never abandon us. You continue to write your love upon our hearts and be our God, no matter how many times we go astray or ignore you or break your covenant. 

We pray to you, whatever stage we are in life, to make a new covenant with us and reform us, O God, reform us.

You made your church, O God, of people—came among us as Jesus to be the head of the church. It started out a bunch of bumbling Disciples, people who knew your Son, people who wanted to hand down the stories so people would know your love for us through the life and death of Jesus. Sometimes the church was on track and sometimes it was not revealing your love and life. We give you thanks for the reformer Martin Luther, who spoke out against injustice in his time, the sin of the church which was charging people for salvation, taking the free gift of God's love and grace, and making people pay to spring their loved ones from purgatory into heaven. The church was not reflecting your love—it was too busy building fancy cathedrals, elevating corrupt clergy, and keeping the poor and illiterate afraid and ignorant. So at great risk to himself, because he couldn't participate in a system like this without endangering his soul or misusing the Gospel, Martin Luther spoke up. He tried to start a dialog. Many priests, several kings and princes, and many regular folks joined him in the dialogue. The Pope and those in power tried to squelch the conversation, excommunicated him, and called for his execution. 

Today, we are proud of our history, but we cannot boast. It is excluded. We all fall short. You call us to repentance, again and again, to turn around, to be aware of our sins and errors, and to follow your Gospel way. Your servant, Martin Luther said that we must always be reforming, finding the injustices that we all participate in, the way we enslave and injure one another, the ways we deny the Gospel by our actions, and we must reform to better reflect your love and speak it clearly in our context to those who need it most.

Our congregation doesn't purposely injure anyone, but we are a long way from what you taught us. We have rooms downstairs in this building that sit empty, not serving those in need. We use language in worship that isn't straight-forward to people of our time. We use energy to heat this building that pollutes the earth and makes people sick. We expect people to come to us to hear the Gospel, when you told us to “Go and make disciples of all nations.” We worship our own comfort, our money, our nice cars and clothes, our cupboards full of food. We mistake these for salvation and signs of your favor. Reform us, O God, reform us.

God, you created the heavens and earth beautiful and very good. This part of the world is especially beautiful to us—the green hills, the mountains, the rivers, the birds, the fish. And yet we lament the death of hundreds of species a day because of our carelessness and selfishness. We lament the pouring of poisons into our air and water. We lament the depletion of the soil, the handing over of power over our crops to a few corporations who do not have the best interest of your planet in mind. The poor bear the brunt of our ruin of your good creation, while the rich can move places that are cleaner and dump their waste far away. We lament our indifference, our helplessness, our unwillingness to be inconvenienced in order to renew creation so that life may abound, so that our children won't have to fight each other for the few resources that are left, so that Pepper can live in freedom and hope.
Reform us, O God, reform us.

God, you created us and the church and this world, this universe good. Yet, we all have sinned and fall short of your glory. And so our mouths are silenced, every mouth. What can we say, when we have broken the covenant, when we have betrayed your trust, when we have divorced you in order to follow others? We have no excuse. We have nothing to boast about.

Into this silence, God finally gets a word in edgewise. God says to us, “I will make a new covenant with you. I will be your God, and you will be my people, and I will forgive you and love you.”

In Romans God says to us that God doesn't give us the commandments so that we can brag that we fulfilled them all, but so that we realize how helpless we are and turn to God for help. All have fallen short, all have sinned, all are wounded. So all are granted a free gift, God's love, God's forgiveness, relationship with God. All fall short: all are justified by God's grace as a gift. “Justified” is an unfamiliar word. In this case, it means to declare innocent or guiltless; absolve; acquit. We are acquitted because of God's grace. 

We all fall short. No one can brag or say they are better than anyone else. We all are acquitted, so we can't put anybody down. All are acquitted, not only the person who sinned worse than you sitting here in this room, or the other Christians who are mean and ruin it for the rest of us. All these are now justified, acquitted, but also included are Muslims and Jewish people, agnostics and athiests and Humanists, the rich and poor, the old and young, Republicans, Democrats, Green Party, Libertarians, and Independents. We know Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and we know that even they are justified by God's grace as a gift. God claims absolutely everyone. Some say those other groups are left out because the Bible says here this is through faith in Jesus Christ, so it depends on our faith. However, verse 22 can also be translated this way, “through the faith of Jesus Christ.” Therefore it might not be our faith that does it, which we know waivers and isn't that reliable, and it seems more likely to me that it is the faith of Jesus Christ, which is strong and true which assures our place in God's family.

When we read this scripture, we are reminded that none of us can earn God's love, and that we all fall short. We find out that he loves, forgives, and accepts us as his own. Then we learn that everyone else is in the same boat, so when we meet other people on the journey of life, we would do well to see them as our equal, rather than boast or put them down. We are invited instead to see them as a child of God, just like we are.

We have been slaves to sin and all this bad news. Sometimes we see it, sometimes we don't. A lot of times we are blind to our own slavery. We are often blind to sin of humanity, the church, and toward the creation. We often don't see how we are enslaved to our busy schedules, or to keeping up appearances, or to our possessions, worshiping them, focusing on them. God opens our eyes to our sin, not to make us feel bad and paralyze us, but to free us to act in the best interest of this broken world. We are freed from slavery to sin, freed from repeating the mistakes of trying to earn God's love. We are freed, not to do whatever we want, but to serve this broken and hurting world, and to be reformed again and again into God's image.
Reform us, O God, reform us!