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Thursday, May 31, 2018

May 27, 2018

Mark 12:28-37   
Isaiah 6:1-8         
Romans 8:12-17
Where have you seen God this week?
I saw God today.  I wasn’t expecting to.  Our King recently died and our whole country is in chaos.  We don’t know what is next for us.  I had been in despair lately, afraid, feeling sorry for myself, feeling inadequate.  I had been fasting and praying, waiting for some sign from God who seemed so silent and far away.
Suddenly I felt this powerful presence with me.  A brightness filled the room where I was.  I saw angels and heard their heavenly singing.  The earth began to shake and my room began to shudder and I felt weak in the knees with fear and awe.  The angels sang of God who was so different from human beings, so powerful, so much more than we could imagine.  Their voices touched me so deeply I began to shed tears. 
I felt inadequate, small and I said so.  I felt unworthy and unprepared.  So I just blurted it, that I am a man of unclean lips, that I have said things I regretted, that I have told lies, that I have participated in gossip, that I didn’t have the words to express my feelings at that moment, that I didn’t have the words to express all the wrong things I’d said.  And I went on that I am not the exception.  This is the same for the community I live in, none of us is known for our eloquence or truth-speaking.  It really surprised me to get a glimpse of God, even though I am small and full of sin.
My encounter with God didn’t leave me unchanged.  An angel flew to me, a seraph, which means “fiery one.”  The fiery one brought a burning coal from the sacrificial fire on the altar and touched it to my lips.  I was not afraid.  I knew that fire was cleansing.  Sure enough, after that my lips burned only to tell the people what God had to say.  After that, I stayed quiet enough to hear what God was saying.  After that, I chose my words carefully, knowing that what I said reflected on the Holy One.  My words could give God glory and lift me up, as well, or it could blaspheme God and hurt the people, including myself. I had to tell the truth after that and tell it bluntly.  This was my call, this is what God sent me to do, and I could do nothing else.
We saw God today.  We weren’t expecting to.  We were afraid.  We were living like slaves to our passions.  We were focused on our daily needs, making enough money to live, eating, partying, impressing each other.  Some of us felt we were better than others. We kept putting each other down to make ourselves feel better.
But we gathered in the community of believers and we were singing and praying.  We read again the story of the Israelites as slaves in Egypt, and we realized that we were not only freed then, but we were being freed now, to see each other as fully human.  We were to participate in the freeing of our brothers and sisters that we had enslaved in our own ideas of who was good enough for God to love.  We finally started to get it, that God has enough love to free all of us, and that we are all adopted into God’s family.  We saw each other with new eyes.  We saw a vision of all God’s people, all God’s creation coming together, freed, loved, and empowered for service.  We also saw this wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, that we not only inherit God’s glory and all the good things about being a beloved child of God, but we also inherit a share of suffering.  It wouldn’t be easy going forward.  We would take risks.  We would upset the order of things and be made to suffer for breaking the rules of this world.  But that’s exactly what Jesus freed us to do, and we could do nothing else.
I saw God today.  I wasn’t expecting to.  I thought to be a good Jew, I just needed to follow the rules or to understand better.  I thought I could intellectualize it.  So I went to see Jesus, because I was curious about his miracles and some of the things it had been reported that he said.  Some of the other Pharisees were complaining about him and making threats against him.  But I had been feeling unsettled.  My religious rituals weren’t giving me any satisfaction anymore.  I felt like something important was missing.  I felt like a hypocrite.  I felt lost.  So I went looking.  I hoped that Jesus would perform a miracle for me.  I thought it might help me believe more strongly.  I wanted a sign, something I could see and experience to convince me.  But Jesus said that in order to see we had be born anew.  That just sounded weird to me.  I didn’t want to start over.  Who would want to be a little kid again?  I guess I must have misunderstood, because he explained he meant to look in a different way and live in a different way, start fresh with new eyes for what is holy and loving and life-giving in this world and beyond. 
He spoke of God’s Spirit, moving and powerful, brushing up against us, pushing us, and bringing us God’s word, indicating God’s presence, a true miracle of power in our midst.  That God would come to someone as dense and afraid and small as me, it’s true, it was a miracle.  And that God would not come to tell us how bad we are, to condemn us, but to set us free, to be in relationship with God, Creator, Jesus, one of us, and the Holy Spirit, our advocate, the breath of God, Sophia Wisdom. 
And for God to set us free to be in relationship with each other!  I didn’t realize until later when I stood at the foot of the cross where he hung dying, I, a Pharisee, important and knowledgeable, found myself equal to the women there at the cross, loved, forgiven, clueless, afraid.  We were his friends and family, although we were unworthy.  Still he gave himself for us.
When I went to Jesus at night, I thought I was taking the risk.  I thought someone might find out and turn me in.  But later I realized that he was taking the real risk.  He didn’t have to meet me for a conversation.  He didn’t have to come into this world.  But there was no other way to communicate the mystery of God, so far away and glorious and powerful, and yet right here, accessible, conversing in quiet, patience late into the evening.  And not just teaching, but lovingly explaining, and finally sending out.  Now that you know how much God loves you, how will your life be different?  Now that you know that God’s Spirit is shared with you, how will you live God’s vision?  How will you use the power God has given you?  How will you live the freedom you have been given? 
I saw God today.  I didn’t expect to.  I met with someone who is sick and homebound, yet she knows that life is more than our bodies.  She hopes and longs for and works for the vision God has lifted up.  She supports neighbors that are hurting.  She makes phone calls and sends cards to people who are sick.  She keeps up the connections.  I saw God in her, suffering, yet moving with the Spirit.  I was changed, inspired, shaken, and I had to lay aside my complaining and short-sightedness and open my eyes to God all around us and within us and I had to go and be different.  I had to get to work on the Kingdom. I could do nothing else.
We saw God today, soldiers on the battlefield looked into each other’s eyes and wondered why we can’t live in peace.
We saw God today, as we picked up litter and shook our heads at our warming planet.
We saw God today, when we attempted to communicate with someone who’s language is different from our own and found we are all just people trying to understand and be understood.
We saw God today, when we sat in silence and listened to our heart, and let our wounds connect us with others.
We saw God today, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, or any of the other names you could use to describe the undescribeable who is in every breath, every relationship, who is love, who is all hope, who is around and within and between, alpha and omega, God most high and most near.  We are changed.  We are sent out in freedom.  We heard God ask who would go to those who are trapped.  We said, “Here we are, send us.”

Monday, May 21, 2018

May 20, 2018 Pentecost

John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15                
Acts 2:1-21          
Romans 8:22-27
                Today we celebrate the power of God.  God used God’s power of creativity and energy to create the universe, a powerful interactive system of planets and stars that pull on one another with power and force.  God used and uses God’s power of creativity and energy to create this world with its seasons and plants and animals, interdependent, sharing power, exchanging power.  The sun emits heat, power that the plants absorb and use to grow, that share their power with animals who eat them and live in them, including us humans. 
God shares God’s power with the creation.  The power of the plants and animals and heavenly bodies is displayed in the reading from Acts.  The Sun conveys the power of God through an eclipse.  The moon shows God’s power through its different phases and colors.  The earth will display the power God has shared with it through weather and natural disasters.  In the reading from Romans, the creation groans.  It is almost like creation is a person.  Creation waits.  Creation longs for the fulfillment of God’s vision.  Creation groans.  Creation is active because of the power of God.
God shares God’s power with humankind.  Yes, we are part of creation, but in case we wondered how we fit in, Paul writes in Romans that we ourselves see God’s vision because God has empowered us to, and that we groan as we wait for the fulfillment, the full realization of that vision of health and peace and wholeness. 
This exchange of power, this sharing of power can be frightening.  To have power is to have the ability to act.  It is have energy propelling us.  It is to be alive.  But power can be used for good or ill.  It can lead us into situations that are dangerous.  Power means that things aren’t going to stay the same.  There is movement and with movement there is risk.
I am in a many years long process of sharing power with my child.  I give him the power of knowledge as he learns.  I give him the power of responsibilities and practicing putting away his clothes.  I help give him the power of language to express himself.  I give him the power of independence.  This power is exciting for him.  He likes having power, having choices, having independence.  I know he needs a safe time to experiment with using his power in ways that promote life for him.  Yet I am very aware that sharing power means a risk.  He can use that power to reach his dreams and go the distance.  And he can use that power to cause harm to himself and others.  And harm will come to him, hopefully in small manageable amounts that we can learn from.  Hopefully those situations will better help him use his power in the future.
The prophet Joel saw evidence of God’s power-sharing with creation, the moon turned to blood, the eclipse, the fire and smoky mist, and he was afraid.  This was a warning that God was powerful and could crush anyone who went against him.  It was a sign of power over.  But here, Luke who wrote the book of Acts, sees this as an image of power-sharing, of empowerment, of God’s saving power.  That all flesh will have God’s Spirit means that God’s power will be shared among all people, that people will see God’s vision and God’s dreams vividly, that they will communicate these dreams to each other, that Creation will be communicating with us as well and that we will all be participating in God’s dream, acting for justice, acting in love.  For Joel, maybe these dreams were bad dreams of coming destruction.  But for Luke, they are hopeful dreams.  Even in the Old Testament when God warns people, they often repent and it comes out hopeful anyway.
In the Acts reading this power sharing is loud, it’s bright, it is everywhere at once.  It is first among the Disciples in wind, flame, language.  Others were attracted to it.  There was a great crowd in Jerusalem celebrating the great harvest festival of Pentecost.  Did you realize it wasn’t just a Christian holiday?  We share it with the Jewish faith, or rather they shared it with us.  So all these Jewish people from many nations are in town giving their first fruits of the spring harvest, probably barley, and sacrificing it on the altar and giving thanks to God for the harvest, and anticipating the fruitful year where their needs will being met.  God has shared power with them to grow food.  Now they share power back with their gratefulness and focus on God’s goodness.  Jews from every nation are gathered there for the celebration that was a required pilgrimage at least once on one’s lifetime.  So they hear this noisy wind and see all this fire, and they go surging toward this sound and they hear in their own language the good news of God’s power.  Notice they aren’t required to learn or take on the dominant language, but the disciples are speaking their languages so these outsiders can understand.  And they are empowered by their connection with the disciples.  They are empowered by the story of Jesus. 
Some choose not to be empowered.  They accuse the disciples of being drunk.  Maybe they are afraid of the power shift that might take place of this story of Jesus is true.  If all that call on the name of the Lord shall be saved, that would mean even undeserving people shall be saved, even people I don’t like, even foreigners, even Muslims, even lazy people.  Pretty soon we’ll have nobodies thinking they are somebody and that is going to be chaos! 
But others were empowered.  Think of all these travelers going home, and they tell the story of
what happened to them in Jerusalem, “You won’t believe what happened to me in Jerusalem!  I was making my offering and I heard this sound.  It’s so hard to describe, and I found myself swept along with the crowd and I heard these people speaking my language.  They told me this story about a man named Jesus, but he was more than a man, and he shared his power with children and women and people with AIDS and even people who had died, he raised them from the dead.  He came to tell us that God is sharing God’s power in order that we might have abundant life, abundant power, and share that power with each other, especially people like us that have been rejected and seen as outsiders. And I suddenly saw a vision of relationship and connection and common language between not only people, but between us and this creation, with the trees and the animals, and the insects, and the mountains.  I feel changed and I want you to know the peace and joy and energy I do!”  Don’t you think this moment probably was a great beginning to Christianity? 
God’s power was released and shared in very strong way with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  This was God’s way of connecting and sharing power with people once God’s presence was not there in the person of Jesus anymore.  And to those, like us, centuries removed from the historical Jesus, we have this assurance in the Gospel that God’s power still flows to us through the Holy Spirit, the Advocate that John writes about.  In fact we have an advantage, it says in verse 7, the Advocate the Holy Spirit, to connect us with God’s power.
Let’s be clear though that God’s kind of power is different from the world’s power.  The world’s power is for making people behave under threats.  The world’s power is for benefitting some and not others.  The world says if you have money or possessions you have power.  The world lies about power.  But God’s power exposes those lies, because it is for everyone.  It is accessible.  It is free.  It can’t be hoarded.  It must be shared.  God’s power is that of life and love.  We are not truly empowered if someone among us is disempowered, because our power is in the health and life of the whole community and not just of people but of creation.
I am full of hope this Pentecost because I hear that wind blowing and I see that fire burning.  It’s giving me goosebumps!  There is such power among you and loose in the world.  Yes, the news if full of terrible atrocities and you share your struggles and pains.  They are all very real.  But they don’t have the last word.  God is in the midst of transforming us, re-creating us, sharing power with us, building that vision, birthing that vision of new life and abundant love and radical relationship.  With every push its getting closer.  There are a lot of unknowns, but we trust the powerful one, we have hope, we use our power to empower others.  We try to get out of the way.  God’s Kingdom will be born in our midst.  Alleluia, amen.

Monday, May 14, 2018

May 13, 2018

John 17:6-19       
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26          
1 John 5:9-13
                Anybody else start to feel their eyes roll up in their heads in the midst of the Gospel reading this morning?  I know I did.  I just want to shout, “John, just stop!”  I mentioned last week that Jesus has been giving his very long farewell discourse to his disciples.  I was wrong, it isn’t quite half the book, but it is 4 chapters and this prayer is right at the end, right before Jesus is arrested.  Jesus is trying to make sure his Disciples feel equipped to be without him.  We get to overhear this because we need to be equipped to be without Jesus and yet live as his body in the world, as the church, believers who gather in community.
            Picture a mom as she bids farewell to his child who is leaving for college.  The kid is sitting in the car piled high with clothes and supplies for this next stage of the journey.  And mom is running beside the car as it pulls out of the driveway, “Don’t forget to test the smoke alarm!  Call if you need anything.  I can be there in an hour!  You’ve got this kiddo!  Did you remember to pack the popcorn popper?” and on and on. 
            Like a caring mother saying goodbye for now, Jesus wants to make sure we are equipped to be without him.  Are you interested to know what Jesus wanted us to know?  Are you interested in being equipped? 
            Jesus was aware that this world is full of dangers and temptations.  Mom would say, “Don’t drink too much at parties.  If your friend jumped off a bridge, would you?  Be sure to wear protection.”  Jesus prays to God with his Disciples listening, “I ask you to protect them from the evil one.”  Jesus prays especially about the world.  Yes, there are many joys in this world and much beauty, but that’s not what Jesus is talking about.  This concept of world is mentioned over and over again this morning.  It refers to whatever is at odds with God or rejects Jesus and his values.  Jesus stands against the values of this world, like greed and might makes right and division and a limited view.  The world’s values and power can easily tempt us, like they did Judas, and we can succumb to the pressures of this world and reject the life that Jesus is trying to give us. 
This world is dangerous, so Jesus prays for God’s protection.  This isn’t protection from pain or injury or even death, this is protection from temptation that may cause us to stray from values that give us life.
But even though the world is hostile, Jesus doesn’t hate the world or want to destroy it.  Remember John 3:16 “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son… that we may not perish but have eternal life.”  The world is hostile and life-taking, but God created the world—it got way off track.  So God came into the world as Jesus to show love, to show another way, to redeem the world.  Just a few sentences before our Gospel reading for today, Jesus says, “Take courage; I have conquered the world!”  By dying and rising again to give life to the world, he’s shown the powers of the world are nothing.  They won’t have the last word.   By the way he’s lived his life, he’s exposed the hypocrisy of the world.  By his death on the cross he’s shown the cruelty of the world.  He’s conquered the world, but not to destroy it.  He’s conquered the world in order to give the world new life.
Mom says, “Call when you get there so I know you’ve arrived safely.  Be sure to call if you need anything.”  Jesus says, “All mine are yours and yours are mine … may they be one as we are one.”  Through this prayer, Jesus is affirming that even though he won’t be there in person, God and the apostles will still be connected.  God will still reveal God’s word to them.  They will have all the powers that Jesus has.  They will have all their belief and faith that guides and motivates them.  They will have a sense of belonging, a relationship with God that will sustain them.
Part of this is reflected in the reading from Acts.  There the apostles are trying to move forward.  There had been 12 of them and there is this empty space left by Judas.  It is making them feel deficient.  Maybe they wonder if they should have done something different to prevent Judas hurting Jesus.  Maybe they point the finger at each other for what happened with Judas.  But 11 isn’t a number that is working for them.  They want to fill that slot, not only to move on, but to honor the number that Jesus picked which corresponded with the 12 tribes of Israel.  12 is a number that means complete and they wanted to make sure no one was left behind as Jesus’ ministry went forward.  They pick a new guy to help them feel they have a solid number of apostles to stay in connection with God who will sustain them.
Funny thing is, God agrees about leaving no out, so keeps picking more and more apostles to keep the community connected.  Matthias is chosen to make sure all 12 tribes are represented.  Mary Magdalene is nearby and we know she does the work of the apostles, sharing the good news.  The Gentiles need to know they are included in the next steps and so Paul becomes an apostle, and you and I are appointed to be part of this crew of people who are so connected with Jesus that we are living life in a countercultural way.
So on to my next point, the values and direction of the world are so destructive and hostile to Jesus’ values and here we are trying to live those values of Jesus.  It is like we are aliens in a foreign land (the world), speaking a different language, having different customs and rituals, and living in a completely different way than the world around us.  Mom says, “Don’t forget who you are.”  Jesus says, “I have given them your word and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world just as I do not belong to the world.”  The world is full of division and hurt and greed.  The world tempts us to value money and possessions and late night parties and fleeting pleasure.  That is the culture we live in in the world.  But that is not the culture we have in our hearts.  That is not who we are.  Jesus is asking that we would remain true to our values and identity as citizens of the Kingdom of God, of forgiveness, generosity, love, truth-telling, and standing up for the poor and forgotten.
And the final point.  Mom says, “Have fun!”  Jesus says, “I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves.”  This is a little more than “Have fun.”  Fun is a momentary, fleeting feeling, but joy is a deeper satisfaction, a more lasting contentment not based on outside happenstance.  The whole point of the protection and the staying connected and the focus on the values of God’s Kingdom is that we would have joy and that joy would come to the whole community and the world.  The whole point is joy. 
So in a little while we won’t see each other, but I encourage you to stay connected, act on your values, remember who you are, and be joyful.  We come here each week, like a college student, to do our laundry and be washed clean, to speak our native language of forgiveness, generosity, and love, to be strengthened against the temptations of this world, to stay connected with our heavenly Mother and our family, and to experience joy.  And lets not forget that we eat together the food that nourishes and sustains us and connects us to our story and what is true.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

May 6, 2018

John 15:9-17       
1 John 5:1-6
                These past few weeks we’ve been reading parts of Jesus’ farewell discourse to his disciples.  It seems he takes his time saying goodbye.  Partly, that is because he needs them to know that just because he will be out of their sight, doesn’t mean they won’t be connected and they won’t be friends.  Quite the contrary, since they will be continuing the work that he started, they will remain his friends and continue to receive power from him in a loving relationship.  How do we stay connected with one whom we cannot see?  It is not only a question for the Disciples of Jesus’ day, but it is a great question for us to explore who have never seen him in the flesh, yet we feel we are part of something greater.
            Today we are commanded to bear fruit.  Last week we heard that we are the branches and Jesus is the vine and that we are to bear fruit, which we cannot do apart from the vine.  So I thought we’d build ourselves a tree.  This is a love tree, since love is the fruit we are to bear. 
            We’ll start with the roots.  These roots are rooted in the Earth, this planet of which we are a part.  This earth holds us steady, connects us to nutrients we need to grow, and is made up of the decomposed leaves and fruits of bygone seasons and other trees.  It reminds us that we do not stand alone, but we are part of something.  This earth also has flowing within it the waters of life that nourish us and make life and love possible.  Already this tree is rooted lovingly, is related in a loving, life-giving relationship with the earth and the creatures around us that make life possible.
            Then we have the trunk, or the vine.  This is Jesus.  This is love.  Jesus holds us upright, and joins us all together into one.  Jesus is the path of transport for all the water and nutrients from the roots as well as all the sugars made in the leaves in the process of photosynthesis.  Jesus connects all the parts of the tree and remains strong and steady, even as the rest of the tree changes through the seasosn.
            Now we have the branches.  I thought at first one branch might be Lutherans and another Roman Catholics and another Presbyterian, but that is a very weird way to divide people, and a false way.  I think a better way to think of the branches is by spiritual paths.  We all come to be connected with the Divine in different ways.  For some it might be more intellectual, for others through prayer and devotion, for others through service or justice work, and for others through giving or receiving generosity, some might be connected through following rules or laws, and others might be connected through raising their awareness of the Divine in all of life.  Of course some branches fall off and others spring up, which is like our spiritual lives.  The branch that once connected us, because of our experiences and perspectives, doesn’t seem to bring us life anymore.  Maybe a another spiritual practice is a better fit, so a new branch grows and we are connected in a different way.  As branches we are always reaching out for warmth and life and energy.
            One of the neighboring pastors told a story about her grandchild when he was about 3 years old, winter came around and he said, “Grandma! The trees broke!”  He didn’t remember the previous year when the leaves fell.  But he knew something was wrong that the trees didn’t have leaves.  Leaves are critical for gathering energy from the sun to feed the plant.  Some plants have leaves all year—evergreens, including fir and pine trees as well as my awful laurel hedge.  Some plants drop their leaves in the fall and winter.  Some plants have leaves that feed us.  What are some of your favorite leafy vegetables?  Some have leaves that spice up our lives like sage, bay leaf, oregano, mint, and rosemary.  Sometimes we think of leaves as being only green, but when we look around we see a true diversity of colors from purple, to yellow, to even blue or red.
            There would be no tree without first a seed, and so now we come to the flower and the fruit.  The tree flowers, sometimes it is barely noticeable, and sometimes it seems the whole tree has turned pink.  If conditions are right and the flower is pollinated, the correct nutrients assembled, enough energy exists in the tree, the tree produces a fruit, a seed surrounded by all kinds of nutrients, so when it hits the ground, it will rot and make a lovely fertilizer to grow the seed in.
            We’re supposed to bear fruit.  We’ve been appointed for it.  Sometimes we think the fruit refers to how many people to invite to church.  That’s a fine interpretation.  Go ahead and do that.  But it is also about the why we would invite them.  If we invite them because we love God and we experience the love of God through our church, they will know that is why, as opposed to if we invite them because we feel guilty that we haven’t produced any fruit lately.  And if we invite them and we haven’t been otherwise loving to them, they will see through that, too.  Bearing fruit is loving action, it is passing on the love we’ve found in God and in community.  What the next person does with it is up to them, but as branches we keep passing on the loving energy, we continue to be in loving relationship with this whole tree all around us.  And that’s the only way that fruit lasts, right?  It isn’t made to hold up.  Its made to fall and rot in a matter of weeks or days.  But a fruit that lasts, adapts.  It falls, it rots, the seeds take root, a new tree grows up, with leaves and branches, and eventually fruit that again falls.  Fruit that lasts goes through many stages and never stops developing.  That’s the challenge for us.  How can we remain connected with God and each other, being used to a certain way of doing things, be ready for the challenges of life, adapt and grow, and continue to reach for the light and love and energy for the good of the whole?  How do we as individuals do that?  How do we as a congregation do that?  Or maybe knowing our place as part of the tree of love, we would simply reach and trust, and find ourselves conveying that love of God, just by being open to it.
            We’d of course have no tree without the sun.  This sun is the source of all life, so the sun symbolizes God’s energy and warmth and love going out to the cosmos.  And lets not forget the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is the springs of water under the earth, washing us clean in baptism, refreshing us, and enlivening us, and the Holy Spirit is the wind, breathing into this tree, this system, shaking up this tree so it is never standing still.
            As branches of the tree of love, we would never use God as a wishing well to just fulfill our own needs, but instead would be interested in the same thing God is, that we would always be asking for the power to love, the power to stay connected, the interest in the common good and vitality of the whole tree, the whole family of God.  Then may our joy be complete, not when one leaf or branch is alive, or one root flourishing, but when the whole system works together, exchanging life, passing on water and sugars and nutrients, and oxygen and nitrogen and sap and water, and when it does then joy may be called complete because all participate in it and all give glory and credit to God.  The trees participate in this system and exchange without ever seeing any of it or knowing what else is going on, yet, each plays its part and finds life in the relationship.  And so may we.
            Relational Question:  Turn to someone near you and share: What ways have you found to stay connected to the source of life and love and/or what would you like to try to stay connected to connected to God and community?