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Thursday, August 24, 2017

August 20, 2017   

Gospel: Matthew 15:21-28   
1st Reading: Isaiah 56:1, 6-8
2nd Reading: Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
      I am having an emotional reaction to this reading today, because I keep thinking of my niece, Macey.  She is the one who died in May.  She was profoundly disabled.  One of the symptoms of Aicardi Syndrome is seizures.  And seizures in Jesus' time were thought to be caused by a demon.  "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon."  My pain today is for Macey and her family, her sisters and parents.  They were quiet in the way they cared for her.  They cared for their daughter and sister around the clock.  They bathed her and fed her and tended to her needs.  But in another way, their lives shouted loudly about the value of a human life of someone who was different.  Macey never spoke, but her life spoke volumes to people around her.  Her family took Macey to soccer games and on vacations.  Every other year her family attended an Aicardi Conference of families affected by her syndrome and since it was difficult to travel with Macey on an airplane, they took a road trip across the country.  She met all kinds of people on those trips.  Macey went to school and shorty before she got ill this last time, even went with her class to tour the high school they would be entering in the fall, right now in fact.  Because Macey was in the world, people had to confront their own discomfort.  Do I look or don't I?  How long can I look?  What can I say to acknowledge her, but not sound rude?  Is it ok to be curious and ask questions about Macey?  What do I say to my kids who have questions?  Over the years Macey's family developed a thick skin.  They came to expect stares.  They learned quick comebacks to words for their daughter that indicated that her life was less than other people's.  They talked openly about the "R" word, "retarded" and how much that label hurt them and Macey and what it indicated about the person who said it.  And they taught everyone who knew them about Macey, about the helplessness we all face at different levels, and about unconditional love.
      One key thing that Macey taught us is about the value of life, even for someone we don't see as contributing in the same way as many other people.  Macey's life had value and we're better for having known her.  Our world is more loving and open because of her.
      So here is this woman, a Canaanite.  Her people were supposed to be eradicated from the land when the Israelites entered it after wandering in the wilderness.  Yet, here she is, a native of the land, removed from the land of her people, a supposed obstacle to the chosen people, a life without value.  But she's a survivor.  And we have a chance to meet her, listen to her, learn from her, and experience joy in the healing of her daughter.  She isn't supposed to be worthy of anything, but she gets an audience with Jesus.  She isn't entitled to anything, but she gets what she asks for.  She isn't supposed to matter, but her faith is stronger than Peter's who was just scolded for having so little of it.  In fact, this Canaanite woman, takes her place alongside Abraham and Moses and argues with God.  Remember Abraham arguing with God to spare the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.  "If I can find 50 faithful people, will you spare the city, God?  How about 10?  How about 5?"  And remember several times Moses argues with God and intervenes on behalf of the people.  "Don't give up on them, God!  Spare your people.  Don't be angry with them!  Remember you are a merciful God!"  And now here is this woman also arguing with God.  But I don't think that God forgets who God is.  These stories about Moses and Abraham are for the benefit of the audience reading or hearing them.  They remind us who God is.  I believe the same is true of this story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman.  Jesus knows God's love is big enough even for her, but argues with her so that she has the chance to proclaim, to reveal her faith, to teach us how big God's love is.
      Before this reading we have reminders that there is more than enough in God's Kingdom.  When we share, there are enough loaves and fishes and zucchini for everyone.  Peter and the disciples witness this great feeding and they still don't get that there is enough and are surprised when there is enough.  And here comes this woman.  Jesus ignores her.  That part hurts.  But she's used to that.  She won't let that stop her. She knows there is enough for her a Canaanite.  She knows there is enough for her daughter, suffering from seizures, a disability.  She lives this life each day.  She doesn't have time for the rude things that people say or the discomfort they feel.  She knows the answer to the questions, "Who sinned, this girl or her parents that she has seizures?" She knows that isn't the question to ask.  She knows the question is this, "What sin keeps us from valuing the life of this woman or her child?  What sin keeps us from sharing our crumbs? What sin leads us to waste our food, our time, our money on things that don't matter, while this woman and her child suffer?"  The disciples thought of this woman as a waste of time, not even worth the waste of what was on the table, with a life less valuable than a dog’s.  This woman didn't waste her energy on their prejudice.  She was determined to receive what she knew was available and what would satisfy her need.
      And because of that we learn something from her:  We learned the value of persistence.  Don't give up on what is really important.  We learn to develop a thick skin.  People are going to say things that hurt.  They will be cruel. Don't waste your time caring what they think.  Don't let that stop you.  We learn to identify our need and not be afraid to ask for help with it.  We learn to clarify who we are and what is our story.  She knows what is important to her.  She is clear about it.  We can be, too, but it takes practice.
      Finally and most importantly we can learn to claim the promise of God. We don't keep the sabbath.  We don't keep the commandments.  We often pursue values that are different from God's. We are Gentile, like this woman.  Yet we need God's love and healing.  We want to draw near to him and learn to live a life of health and well-being.  We are undeserving.  Yet even that can't keep God from loving and healing us and showing us our lives have value.  God is merciful.  God is loving.  There is enough love for all of us and nothing can keep that love from going out to all.  God's love is for you.  Claim it!  Demand it!  And demand it for every neglected, undervalued person and part of creation that you can. 
      I think of Macey and wonder about her blessing.  Did her mother come to Jesus and not receive that blessing?  But then I think of all the blessings and healings she did receive, surgeries we weren’t sure she’d survive, close calls.  God did let that blessing flow to her.  But we are not fully in God’s Kingdom, yet.  It is coming near, but not fully realized.  So that blessing is not fully realized.  Even Lazarus who was raised from the dead, had to eventually die again.  Someday we will be fully in God’s presence and there will be no more weeping or pain or hunger or greed, no more prejudice, no more “R” word or “N” word, but one beautiful family of God living in God’s shalom.
      God's love is flowing forth.  In the Gospel of Matthew, as Jesus traveled in his ministry, it seems that it flowed first to the people of Israel.  Matthew, the Gospel writer, wanted to make sure that the Jewish people knew they still mattered to God and were a priority.  But there are a few hints that this is going further.  One is this story.  Another is the faith of the Roman Centurion whose servant is immediately healed as well.  But after Jesus was raised, he gave the great commission, to go to the whole world with the good news of God's love.  God's love is meant to continue flowing, like a river.  It can't be hoarded.  It should not be blocked from flowing out to all people and animals.  There is enough of it for everyone.  So lets get out of the way and let that love flow through us, merciful and open, loving and generous to all.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

August 13, 2017    

Gospel: Matthew 14:22-33          
1st Reading: 1 Kings 19:9-18
2nd Reading: Romans 10:5-15

                Elijah is running away, beautiful feet are bringing good news, and Jesus and Peter are walking on water!  This is feet Sunday!  I love all the action. 

                Elijah is running away—he has just killed the false prophets, and that is why his life is at risk.  He has his rehearsed speech that places the blame on everyone else.  “I’m the good guy here, God.  Those Israelites haven’t been doing what you told them to.  Now it’s just little ol’ me and I’m hiding because they are trying to get me.”  I can imagine him throwing his little fit, kicking and pounding his fists.  So much action!  And then there is the impressive action of the mountains splitting wind, and earthquake, and a fire, almost like the earth is throwing a fit of its own.

                The reading from Romans is one of the most difficult to understand and scholars disagree about every inch of this reading.  The good news we can get out of it is God’s incredible generosity to absolutely everyone, that we can’t divide ourselves up into categories and say we’re better than anyone else, and how available God’s healing and wholeness is.  Since those truths are not just for a few, word needs to get out.  How does God advertise and let us know the healing the unity and the love God has to give, but through each one of us.  And to our great relief, maybe it isn’t just words that can let people know they are part of something good, but it is our feet, our actions that say the most.  “How beautiful are the feet of the one who brings good news!”

                Finally, the Disciples are being tossed in the boat, all night long—did you catch that?  Jesus is walking on the water.  Peter is walking on the water.  Peter is sinking in the water. Jesus is reaching for Peter and pulling him dripping from the lake.  Again active feet taking a central role!

                Running feet, walking feet, sinking feet, hiding feet, stamping feet, shaking the dust off of feet,  Jesus’ feet walking among us, washing the disciples’ feet, his feet nailed to the cross, rising from the dead to show his hands and feet and side, that it is really him, rising to forgive all who betrayed him and tried to get in the way of the good news and love he had to share to walk the earth again.

                I think of feet, counting the toes on a newborn baby, those little razorblade toenails, those first steps, the sound of running feet in the house, all those places that our feet take us, on adventures, back home again, moving us constantly, unappreciated, hidden, forgotten until we injure them!

                So many feet came to the pantry this week.  I wondered where those feet had been.  What burdens have they carried, what trials have they borne, what joys have they known, what oceans have they traveled, what good news have they brought, what bad news have they received. 

                God’s love is active, moving, shown in actions, on the move, carried by feet to all corners of the world.

                We are used to activity, movement.  But there is something quite in contrast to all this running around also in our readings this morning.  “A sound of sheer silence.”  Whoa.  Every mother knows, if you are hearing all kinds of racket, talking, singing, stomping all is well.  What we dread is “The sound of sheer silence.”  That’s when we get up and go flying into the other room to see what’s going on.   That’s when a parent’s heart leaps in alarm!

 My husband’s mom tells the story of the time little Nicky made the sound of sheer silence.  She went to check on him and he’d poured out all the baby powder of his baby sister and made hills for his cars to drive through.  “Look mom, snow!” he said.  Usually the sound of sheer silence at our house means that the stickers have been located and now are being placed up on the walls of the bedroom, or all the labels are being torn off the crayons, or one of my plants is being repotted, or our waste basket is receiving the sharpie treatment, changing it into a robot.

                Silence is something that can be scary.  It certainly got Elijah’s attention.  God has promised to make a personal appearance.  There was a violent wind, not the sound of God.  There was an earthquake, also not the sound of God.  There was a fire, also not the sound of God.  Then there was the sound of sheer silence, that was when Elijah had no question, God had showed up.  And Elijah was scared out of his mind, not by the powerful action, but by the sound of sheer silence. 

                For the Disciples on the lake, the storm had been battering their boat all night long.  In the morning, they are exhausted and still the storm raged.  And the disciples saw Jesus walking toward them on the water.  They would have been looking into the rising sun, so he would have been a silhouette, maybe not so easy to recognize.  Peter walked out on that choppy lake, toward Jesus, and he was doing fine at first but he started to sink.  Jesus reached out to him and together they got into the boat, and the wind ceased.  I wonder what Peter was thinking in that moment of sheer silence.  Was he confused, afraid, ashamed.  It is in those moments of silence, that we are faced with our own helplessness and sometimes that scares us           However, silence is good for us.  Jesus showed by his example, how he went away to pray by himself, how healthy it is to have a balance of activity and rest.  Silence is a good time to listen to God, to refill our spiritual pitcher that we have been pouring out all week to others.  Do we take time for silence to just listen?  Do we develop our capacity for listening, by practicing over time?  The danger is, if we listen, we’d better be ready to respond to what we hear from God, whether it is about things we need to change about ourselves, or something we need to do for another, or a new direction we take in our life path.  The other good thing about silence, and facing our own helplessness, is that sometimes the realization that we can’t do it ourselves, can turn us toward the one who is all powerful and all knowing.

                In this Gospel, Jesus performs a miracle.  It is the miracle of walking on water.  I have not always been so fond of the miracles in the Gospels.  Sometimes I think they set us up to be disappointed.  We pray and pray for a miracle, and most times it doesn’t happen.  These miracles tell us that God is all-powerful, that God has the power to intervene to change bad situations, and times when bad things happen, we think God chooses not to use that power.  How can we call that love?  Does God let awful things happen? 

                Today, I am feeling a little more kind toward the miracles.  What I think the miracles demonstrate is how the world is intended to be, the way the world is when the Kingdom of God comes near.  When God comes near, what seemed impossible is possible.  When God comes near, we want to imitate Jesus.  When God comes near, we step out, take risks, walk on choppy waters.  When God comes near, we don’t drown on the lake, but take Jesus’ hand and let him lead us.  When God comes near, the hungry are fed, the sick are healed, and the blind receive their sight.

                In the absence of a miracle, sometimes it seems like God is silent, not acting, not loving, not saving.  Even Jesus cried from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But God hadn’t forsaken him.  God was there.  God was there in the women at the foot of the cross.  God was there feeling his pain.  God was there when Jesus took his last breath and when he raised him from the dead, offering forgiveness and love, offering new life.  Sometimes the presence of God is like the sound of sheer silence. 

 Jesus walking on the water, demonstrates his power over nature.  Water in the Bible symbolizes the forces of chaos.  Remember they had no diving suits to explore these deep lakes.  Who knows what might be lurking there?  Who knows when a storm might come up?  There are so many mysteries about the water.  So Jesus walking on the water, shows his power over the forces of chaos. 

                Please also notice, that although he gives Peter a bad time about doubting, that doesn’t stop Jesus from reaching out his hand and lifting him out of the chaotic waters and back into the boat.

                We go from action to silence, and there is more work to do.  God has a new assignment for Elijah, to quit his whining and develop a new story, to pass the torch to the next generation of kings and prophets.  Peter and the disciples have a new assignment, to worship God.  What does that look and sound like?  Is it words?  Is it actions?  Yes and yes.  It is living abundantly, without divisions, sharing food, sharing life, giving of themselves, and listening to God and each other.

                I reflect on the sounds of shouts in Charlottesville, white supremacists taking up torches and marching against the humanity of other people and the counter-protesters, including many pastors in the area.  And I think of the sheer silence in that place following the attack by those who would spread hate killing 1 and injuring a dozen, the police tape, the silent weeping.  Our feet rush to their side.  Our hearts silently reflect on the ways we contribute to and benefit from prejudice and white supremacy.  And then we get busy again, standing with those who are oppressed and downtrodden.  There is always more work to do, more to learn as a disciple of Jesus, more to give, more loving to do, and more ways to challenge ourselves to build the Kingdom of God that we have glimpses of through the miracles of Jesus.

Monday, August 7, 2017

July 30, 2017      

Gospel: Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52            
1st Reading: 1 Kings 3:5-12
2nd Reading: Romans 8:26-39

                We’ve got here 6 little parables about the Kingdom of God.  How about you, do you understand all this?  We’d love to say, yes, wouldn’t we?  But even the disciples, who say yes, in the next chapter express a lack of understanding at the feeding of the 5000.  “You expect us to feed all these people, with 5 loaves and 2 fishes?  That’s not possible!”  And of course Jesus shows us that the Kingdom of God is beyond all our expectations, and that it is about this world, not something we have to die to experience.

                All the readings for today are about what is worth pursuing, what has value and worth?  How do we know assess whether something is trash or treasure, worth our time and energy or not?

In the Old Testament reading King Solomon basically gets the question we’ve all spent time considering—if you had one wish, what would it be.  What’s it going to be—money, long life, dead enemies?  You can just see God waiting for one of the expected answers.  But Solomon asks for a discerning mind—the gift that keeps on giving.  Solomon sees what a gift it was that his father David was in relationship with God.  He seems unaware of some of his father's shortcomings, but God seems to have forgotten them, too.  All humans will have weaknesses and sins, but the important thing is that David stayed in relationship with God.  That was a gift that he valued and kept coming back to as a source of comfort and in decision-making.

In the reading from Romans, Paul admits we don’t know what to pray for or how to ask for it.  We don’t know what to value or what the Kingdom of God looks like or how to build it.  However, thankfully we have in the Holy Spirit a translator, who communicates for us what we really need.  We think we know what has power in our lives: hardship, disress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, violence, and death.  However, this letter reminds us that there is a stronger force, God’s love that is worth pursuing, seeking and sharing with others, that is more valuable, lasting, and powerful than anything else.

Then we come to these little parables, to find out what the Kingdom of God is all about, what is important and valuable in our lives, what is worth leaving everything else to pursue.  This question of what matters and what is worth our time and energy made me think of what God invests in, and whether that can tell us something.  I think it can.

The Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed.  God brings weeds into the fields of our lives, disrupting the orderly rows to provide homes for the smallest, most helpless of creatures, bringing them comfort.

The Kingdom of heaven is like yeast.  It is like a bacteria infesting us so we won’t be so dense!

The Kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field.  Who hides treasure in a field and then goes and buys it?  However, we are God’s creation, and he set us free, let us go, and then sent Jesus to pay the price to bring us home.  This is the one that makes the most sense to me, with God in the active role.

The Kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for a fine pearl.  Jesus gave up everything, even his life to purchase our salvation.  We want to be humble and not compare ourselves to fine jewels, however, maybe it isn’t humankind only that he came to redeem or purchase, but the balance and wholeness of all creation working together as God intended.  Maybe that’s the pearl.

The Kingdom of heaven is like a net.  Yes, all is collected.  God sorts out from each one of us, what is worth keeping and what can be thrown out.

The Kingdom of heaven is like a scribe who treasures what is new and what is old.  God values the relationship that has been going on for a long time as well as doing a new thing among us.

The Kingdom is God’s work, however it is coming near to us.  We want to be able to see it when it comes close to us because it both encourages us going forward and it corrects us whenever we are in the way of God’s work.  And we want to be aware of the Kingdom because we want to help build it where we can, because it is valuable and satisfying not just for us, but all Creation.

Part of participating in the building of the kingdom is to take up our cross and follow Jesus, making a choice of what to let go of and what to take up going forward. 

We get to let go of our neat little rows and trying to have everything organized, and allow for some rapid and disruptive growth for the sake of the little ones.  We get to allow weeds in our garden, squirrels in our birdhouses, children making noises in our worship space, and outdoor worship to disrupt what we’ve come to expect, so that God can show us something new, so that God can speak to us and transform us.

We get to let go of our favorite recipes and control over every process, because the Kingdom brings surprises, like yeast.  We have to let go of our expectations that we will be seen and recognized and be willing to work quietly behind the scenes, a little bit going a long way in our volunteer work and faith life.

We get to let go of our possessions, our comforts, our usual way of doing things, in pursuit of God’s way.

We get to let go of whatever those bad fish are that end up in our lives, things that weigh down our nets, distract us, tempt us, and let God throw them in the furnace.  If we burn them up instead of throwing them back, when we haul in our nets the next time, those same fish won’t be in there again!

We get to let go of our either/or thinking that it is either the old or the new that is better, and embrace the big picture, knowing that the old has something to teach us, and God is bringing new life through the new story of Jesus. 

Jesus came to show us what really has value, so that we can invest wisely.  God coming among us shows that we who have been destructive and harmful, who have been defiant and rebellious, are worthwhile to God to pursue.  These parables of the Kingdom of heaven, help us turn our focus from our selfish pursuits, to what is good for all.  In giving us a little orientation to the Kingdom, Jesus is showing us that we are part of something greater, and only when we let go of our own importance and hoarding, and take our place in the whole, will the Kingdom come for all Creation.

One example I read this week compared this world to a system of trains going many different directions.  But we have to decide which train to board.  Some trains are shiny and bright.  Some offer first-class amenities, but they go nowhere.  Some offer destinations like beauty and money and fame, but are lonely.  And some offer meaning and purpose and love, but the cost of the fare is giving up your comforts and possessions and riding with some people who might not smell so good or speak good English, some might be loud or tell inappropriate stories, they might sit too close, or spit on the floor or have tattoos or have baggy saggy pants.  I’m convinced there are birds and mice on this train and abandoned, abused pets.  You’re bound to encounter whatever and whoever you don’t expect. Congratulations!  You’ve boarded the train to the Kingdom of heaven.  This is the train that Jesus took, and Martin Luther King Jr., and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and even Dick Morris.  But the destination is worth everything—it means connection, it means balance, it means abundant life, and it is eternal relationship, not just for us or a select few, but God’s beloved, messy, hungry, tired, disruptive friends. 

So here are a few more parables for you.  I hope you’ll be thinking of your own.

The Kingdom of heaven is like a human chain that suddenly forms among strangers to save a family swept out by a riptide.

The Kingdom of heaven is like a little bit of tint in a pane of glass that changes a gloomy room into one that is bright and warm.

The Kingdom of heaven is like a transgender son or daughter who comes out to friends and family and teaches them even more about what love is.

The Kingdom of heaven is like a kid on a long train ride that gets everyone to look up from their mobile devices and smile.

The Kingdom of heaven is like a small congregation that leaves the comfort of its four walls and ventures out to be transformed by the world and have new experiences of the Divine.

The Kingdom of heaven is all around us and it isn’t what we’d expect.  Look for it in the smallest places, the most unlikely people, the worst of days, and you’ll see it.  Set aside the things you normally value, and work with those you are most uncomfortable with and let them teach you to build up the Kingdom.  The Kingdom has come near.  It is here!  And it won’t let us stay the same!  God’s Kingdom is transforming us.  It is giving us new life.  We may struggle and fight, but God won’t let us go, because we are of value to God as part of the vision God has when all will be gathered together in peace and love.