Tuesday, April 24, 2018
4 Easter, Year B
April 22, 2018
1 John 3:16-24
Give Grace Amidst Angst, and Be Healed
Life is hard. It’s also great, and we’re in the Easter season, so we’re not going too far down a dark path, but life is, in addition to being great, straight up, plain, old fashioned hard. We have hurts that happen to us from the moment we are born. Fears, feelings of abandonment, loss, and that’s for kids with great parents. People let us down. We let other people down. We lose trust and faith in those we love, disease hits us and knocks whole families down, jobs are lost, security is tenuous, and we hurt and have a hard time reconciling with folks even in the best of circumstances. We end up with a lot of angst.
My desire as a youth was maybe to avoid some of that. In reading scripture back in high school, I had a strong desire to follow God in all his ways, as Jesus told Satan during his temptations in the desert, “love God and serve only him.” Man I wanted to do that, and back in high school it felt like I could, like I could resist temptation, do the right thing, be peaceful, kind, and forgiving to all of those around me. It turns out life was a lot harder than I realized, temptation to soothe life’s hurts far greater than I realized, and I fell pretty far from that ideal. It was never a very realistic ideal, and I would likely only have really achieved it by being aloof, not overly connected to people so that I couldn’t really hurt them and they couldn’t really hurt me. I therefore couldn’t have made a very good friend, husband, father, or priest. I’d have probably ended up as a fairly judgmental person, staying aloof in order to stay, I don’t know…pure, unstained by the world. That’s really just a shield from harm, a shield which causes harm, and it runs totally counter to the Gospel of Jesus in which God refused to stay aloof in guiding us, but became one of us. As such, Jesus knows how hard life is, and he knows first hand that we are all broken-hearted and fearful.
We’re broken-hearted, having been harmed by people and things that happen in our lives, and we’re fearful of forgiving those who hurt us, fearful because forgiving means choosing to be wrong ourselves. If we forgive and accept those who are wrong, then we’re almost condoning the wrong and therefore being wrong ourselves. What if God isn’t pleased by that? What a bunch of hooey. Jesus teaches us to be wrong, to accept back one who is/was wrong. Forgiving means letting go of our grief, and rightness, and letting our hurt die. Forgiving means letting go of our sense of control, our shield, and laying down our lives for others.
Forgiveness isn’t easy, like the rest of life, but that place of forgiveness, grace, and love is where Jesus leads us, because it leads us to a place of peace. He shows us forgiveness, grace, and love that we may be freed to love each other. Jesus leads us to the ability and gives us permission to love and be loved, to forgive and be forgiven. Jesus leads us and gives us permission to lay down our hurt, to lay down that which keeps us insular, aloof, and self-protected. In short, Jesus leads us and gives us permission to lay down our lives, for others, thereby find peace.
Today we talk about Jesus leading us in these ways as Jesus being the good shepherd, and we call this “Good Shepherd” Sunday. Being good shepherd Sunday, I was going to start off with a quick one liner about how dumb sheep are, something like, “Sheep are dumb.” Then, I decided to actually do a little bit research into whether or not sheep really are stupid, and it turns out, they really aren’t all that dumb. In fact, for quadrupeds, they’re pretty intelligent. They were described instead as intelligent, complex, and sociable. They can recognize people, voices, even facial expressions, and they help each other out and they clearly exhibit emotional responses to the circumstances in their lives, kinda like us.
We’ve often thought of sheep as stupid because they wander off and get lost, kinda like us, or because they can exhibit herd mentality and panic together when they perceive a threat, kinda like us. So, sheep aren’t really all that dumb, they’re kinda like us. It’s easy to discount sheep as dumb, just as it’s easy to discount others as wrong, sinful, bad, whatever else, but Jesus, as our good shepherd, chose not to discount us as dumb, but to lead us as a fellow sheep.
John tells us that Jesus laid down his life for us, and that he most certainly did by becoming human. By becoming human, God showed us, in ways that we could truly understand, something of God’s self in Jesus’ love, forgiveness, grace, and peace. Then again, of course God can be all of those things: loving, forgiving, graceful, peaceful. Jesus showed us God’s character and nature, and he also showed us our own character and nature, or at least our potential character and nature. Jesus showed us that we too can be full of love, forgiveness, grace, and peace.
By becoming human, God laid down his life. Rather than be insular and protected, unhurt and untouched by the terrors of this world, God became human and left himself vulnerable to being hurt, left himself fully immersed in our lives, living with us the joy and the pain that we all feel.
Again, Jesus showed us that we have his permission to love and forgive others. Folks who have messed up in big ways that we could readily name and label, Jesus would lead us to a place of forgiveness, grace, and love, leading to peace. Knowing how hard life is, Jesus would lead us to a place of compassion and understanding, knowing that the harm the person caused was brought about in them by their own fears or the harm that they had endured, or maybe even by following the advice of someone who led them in a bad way, someone who had also been led badly and been harmed.
Life is hard, and knowing this, Jesus knows that even forgiveness is hard, grace is hard, love is hard, and Jesus knows that life is even harder when we keep our shields up, keep resentments with us, dragging us down like a dead albatross around our necks.
Jesus leads us instead to life, peace, joy and greater acceptance and love of ourselves through greater acceptance and love of others. Jesus leads us to freedom from the tyranny of being shielded, right, or resentful. Jesus leads us to grace, forgiveness, and love, knowing that if we follow him to that place, we will be healed. We will be kinder to others, less bothered by the wrong and hurtful things they do and that as a community, we'll be more willing and able to give help to others; their lack of worthiness would not stop us.
This place of forgiveness, grace, and love is not easy, just like the rest of life. We’ll still have the angst of hurt with us. In fact, we can’t have grace without angst. To give grace, to say, “I forgive you, even though I’m still hurting,” there is going to be angst. The grace says, “I love you despite my angst and my broken heart. I see you as hurting and trying your best, and I want to love you as a fellow imperfect person in need of love and grace. I will, therefore, love and accept you and keep working at giving grace and forgiveness, even though doing so causes me angst. That is my burden to bear. That is me laying down my life for you.”
Doing so, following Jesus in that way, leads to life, and peace, and joy. Laying down our lives, laying down our burdens, heals us. Follow me, Jesus says, as a fellow sheep who understands how hard life is, and give grace, amidst your angst, and be healed.
Tuesday, April 3, 2018
April 1, 2018
Even When the World Tells Us Not To
Happy Easter y’all, as we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, his victory over death, and the fullness of his great love for us. I love that God joined with us even in death, and then in Jesus’ resurrection, God has shown us the full measure of his grace towards us. We get to share in his eternal life and love, forgiveness and reconciliation.
That’s the nuts and bolts of our faith, we get to share in God’s eternal life and love, forgiveness and reconciliation. I absolutely love our faith, our faith in Jesus and in his resurrection, and I also keep hearing more and more folks who nowadays think we’re kinda nuts for believing in Jesus, or even for believing in a God at all, and that’s fine. To be fair, I don’t know if our faith is true; I can’t prove it, but I love it, and I choose to believe. We choose to believe that there is a God who made us and loves us, frees us and redeems us. We choose to believe that despite our brokenness, God will never quit on us. That is what Jesus’ resurrection means.
God will never quit on us, and yet believing that, we still tend to quit on each other with a fair amount of regularity. I know Lent is over y’all, but such is our condition, our lot in life, that we tend to quit on each other, which is why we need Jesus’ grace and resurrection life in the first place. We start off liking one another and then, we often end up stopping our relationships or letting them slip away. Sometimes it feels like we’re supposed to quit each other for various reasons, such as the insurmountable problems and irreconcilable differences that we face like how we voted in any one single election, our beliefs about those whom we think God may or may not be pleased, how we choose to spend our money, raise our kids, or even how we dress. These are some of the insurmountable barriers that we raise and differences that we face for which we end up quitting each other.
Some in the world may say that division over these differences is ok, but Jesus not so much. We’ve always had differences, reasons why we choose to erect barriers between ourselves and others, but God shows in Jesus’ resurrection that he loves us for who we are, and he wants us to love each other for who we are. Republican. Democrat. Lesbian. Gay. Bisexual. Transgender. Queer. Atheist. Muslim. Jew. Christian. Fundamentalist. Conservative. Liberal. Radical. Black. White. Latino. Asian. Legal. Illegal. Tree hugging, gun loving, gluten free, home-school, hippie.
We have so many labels now, we have a hard time even coming up with enough words to accurately label everyone we see. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe that will force us to love each other based on grace and Jesus’ love and resurrection, rather than just by seeming similar enough with some folks to kinda like each other ok. Jesus was raised from the dead to reconcile us to God and each other. His final commandment to his disciples was to love one another, regardless of our stripes, our skin, our labels, our ethnicity, sexuality, beliefs, or legal status. Middle class, high class, low class, no class? “Love one another,” Jesus said.
People are starving for love, even for an ounce of love. People are going to go where they are loved and accepted. Jesus’ resurrection says, “you are loved and accepted,” and yet people often don’t feel loved and accepted in the church, and so they go elsewhere for love and acceptance. We’ve seen this happening as people are leaving the church in droves. Ideologies? Beliefs? Various social activities? Folks can adapt pretty well to many different beliefs, so long as they are loved, and people will stay where they are loved. I’ve often heard adults say they are no longer sure about the faith, but they love the people and community of their church and so they stay. I think Jesus is ok with that.
Lack of faith? Unsure about Jesus and his resurrection? No problem. A loving community can hold a person through doubts and lack of faith. Hopelessness? We can hold a hopeless person in love, and their hope can be restored. That’s why above all else, Jesus commanded us to love each other. That is why Paul wrote that love is greater even than faith and hope, why John wrote that we cannot claim to love God if we do not love each other.
Jesus commanded that we love one another as he loved us, as he loved his disciples. He loved them so much that the first thing he did once he was raised from the dead was to talk to Mary, assure her that he was alive, and to have her spread the good news to the rest of his disciples. Jesus loved his disciples and loves us to the end, and that is the gospel news for us - however messed up we are, Jesus keeps on loving us, and it’s really not because we’re perfect or even good enough. Think about how often Jesus could have and maybe even should have chosen to quit his disciples, get rid of them, and start over with some better ones.
Jesus was transfigured before them, and Peter pipes up, “Hey Jesus - let’s make some booths!” “Seriously Pete, that’s your response? Yeah, ok, we’re done, just um, you stay here, build a transfiguration theme park, something like that. I’m outta here.”
Then there was the time James and John said, “Um, Jesus, we know you’re busy with this whole upcoming death thing, whatever that is, but we want to sit at your right and left hand when you’re all powerful and glorious in majesty. We kinda think we deserve it.”
“Oh, so you’ve been listening intently to all that I’ve been saying and teaching over the years. You’ve really taken none of it in at all. Great. Tell you what, go to the next town over, about 4 miles away. Get a couple of chairs so you can sit on either side of me, and we’ll wait right here. No, don’t dawdle, just go and do not look back.”
What about everyone else, the sex workers and thieves, the refuse of society with whom Jesus so often hung out? “Yeah, you guys are really disgusting and foul, I think I’m just going to leave.”
Jesus didn’t do that. He stuck with them. Just like God keeps staying with us and choosing to love us. Despite our continued brokenness, God sticks with us. That’s the resurrection life, which Jesus invites us to share. Do the hard work of continuing to choose to stay together, and do the hard work of continuing to die daily to self so that you can share in his resurrection, not because people are perfect or even good enough, but just because people are, and just because you can choose to love one another. In Jesus’ resurrection, he shows us that we can love and forgive each other; it’s ok. We’re allowed to, and we need to.
We need love. That’s what Jesus resurrection is ultimately all about, God’s unwavering love for us. God is love, and love how Jesus wants us to be with each other. That’s the resurrection life. We are Jesus’ beloved, the one’s for whom he sent Mary to say, “Jesus is raised from the dead,” and so we get to keep loving each other as he loves us. Even the weirdoes and the uber conservatives. Even the crazy hippie liberals and straight laced conformists. Even the sex workers and thieves. It is ok for us to love those whom others may feel are unlovable. It is ok for us to love each other despite how messed up we all are. It is ok for us to believe in Jesus and find hope in his resurrection. We get to do that despite what others may say. Who cares if people think we’re nuts? Our faith tells us to love each other. Jesus sticks with us and wants us to stick with each other, to share in the joy and the love of his resurrection. We have his permission to do so, even if the world tells us not to.
Monday, March 19, 2018
5th Sunday of Lent
March 18, 2018
Sleeper Awake (and Quit that Darn Snooze Button)
First of all, I’d like to thank my buddy Patrick Hall for his sermon last Sunday entitled, “Risking Exposure,” which helped draw out of me these words for today. You can look him up, Patrick Hall, and search for his sermon from last Sunday called, “Risking Exposure.”
Now turning to today’s sermon, I’ve recently found that one of the worse inventions ever created is the snooze button. It’s a procrastinator’s dream. You get to put off the day and stay comfy in bed, wrapped in the covers for just a little bit longer, which, if you’re going to do that just set the alarm for 10 minutes later. The big problem with the snooze button is what doesn’t get done because of it, the morning walk or time in prayer, the rushing through a morning that could have been more peaceful.
Ok, so as non-horrific and only mildly annoying as that may sound, what about when we begin hitting the snooze button on life? I know I need to do this thing now. I know it’s important. I know it’s where I need to go in life, but I really just want to stay as I am, so I’ll put it off. Snooze.
When the Greeks came to see Jesus, that was an alarm going off for him. As soon as he heard that a couple of Greeks wished to see him, Jesus immediately told his disciples, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified,” aka, it’s time for me to go get arrested and killed. Why was the fact that a couple Greeks wanted to talk to him an alarm clock for Jesus? Perhaps because they were Gentiles, and Jesus realized that in order for his mission to extend to the Gentiles, he had to die and be raised, and the Holy Spirit to come upon his disciples so that they could all continue his work and grow his Kingdom here on earth. Perhaps it was simply some pre-ordained signal given to Jesus by his Father. “Now son, when a couple of Greeks come to talk to you, that’s when it’s time.”
In any case, as soon as that alarm went off, Jesus hopped out of bed, and immediately began preparing his disciples for his coming death. He told them that a grain of wheat must fall into the earth and die so that it could bear much fruit, rather than just stay as it is. Jesus was talking about his Kingdom and the resurrection life within his kingdom both after this life, and in his kingdom life here on earth.
Long before our deaths, we have alarm clocks going off, telling us that it is time for the Kingdom life here on earth, letting us know there are conditions and situations in our lives which need to die to let the Kingdom life happen. We need to let go of an old resentment. We need to stop drinking. We need to stop going halfway with our faith and fully embrace the way of Jesus. We need to let a past relationship go, or we need to stop fooling ourselves that we are ok as we are and admit to just how broken we really are.
We all have alarm clocks going off letting us know that it is time to let that condition or situation die, and we hear the alarm, we know what we need to do, that it is time to get up out of bed, that shadow of the tomb, and let die what needs to die, but instead, we hit the snooze button and stay as we are, assuming we can manage life as it is, assuming we can try harder, do better, and largely stay as we are. This is of course untrue, and we simply wait for the next alarm, keeping our whole lives in the shadow of death, rather than waking up, getting out of bed, and placing that part of our lives that needs death into the tomb.
Why do we do this over and over? Why, when we hear Jesus calling us to let something in our lives die, do we keep hitting that blasted snooze button? We could say lack of trust or lack of belief, fear at facing the new day without whatever part of us we need to let go, or sometimes we’re just so comfortable as we are, even if it’s not working, we’re just so comfortable lying in bed with the covers drawn up, that we don’t want to move. We don’t want to change, because it’s just too hard to get up out of bed, when we know we’ve got that snooze alarm ready to come around again.
The problem is that with this snooze alarm, is that in life, it only makes getting out of bed even harder. We become more engrained in the life we have, and even though we know life is not working, the thought of risking change becomes intolerable. Facing the new day is far too daunting, and we are far too tired, so we hit the darn snooze button again.
Perhaps then, we need to start going to bed earlier, so we’re not so tired in the morning, and the thought of facing the new day doesn’t seem so daunting. By going to bed earlier, I mean intentionally following practices of prayer, of scripture reading, of service to others, setting aside intentional time each day for prayer, learning more and more to trust in Jesus and thereby to be rested enough so that the alarm is not a horrid sound, but an invitation from a trusted friend.
We also need to do these prayer and scripture practices, this service others not only by ourselves, but also in community with others who can help us learn to trust in Jesus more. We need to admit to those prayer, scripture, and service partners, why we keep hitting the snooze button. We need to admit to them and to ourselves what is keeping us in bed so that they can give us extra support so that we can get up out of bed in the morning, knowing we have others to help us face the world without the things we need to let die. We need help putting things in the tomb. We need folks with us at the funeral, and we need those folks with us to help us through the new life as our lives are remade by Jesus, as his fruit begins to grow.
It is a daunting task to let die within us that which Jesus is calling us to let die, and that snooze button is so tempting, but what is waiting for us when we get out of bed is the resurrection life of Jesus’ kingdom here on earth. The love of Jesus, the life of Jesus, the forgiveness and grace of Jesus all both received from Jesus and then given by us to others, that is what we are putting off every time we hit that thrice blasted snooze button. His Kingdom. His resurrection life. His grace and forgiveness, a new life unbound by that which keeps us asleep. That is what is waiting for us.
“Sleeper awake,” Jesus calls. “Quit that darn snooze button, and get out of bed, that shadow of death. Let die within you that which needs to die, and follow me.”
Monday, March 5, 2018
3rd Sunday of Lent
March 4, 2018
Wreck It Rabbi
One of my kids’ and my favorite movies is an animated movie called, “Wreck It Ralph.” Ralph is a video game character, a bad guy whose catch phrase is, “I’m gonna wreck it,” and in this movie, the video game characters are kind of alive and interact with each other when they are off stage, when no one is playing the game. Ralph’s game is a game called Fix It Felix in which Ralph is, again, the bad guy, except that he doesn’t want to be the bad guy. He’s good hearted, but in the game, his job is to destroy a high rise apartment building, and as he does, the tenants shout “Fix It Felix”, and the hero, Fix It Felix comes along and fixes everything that Ralph destroys. So, everyone kinda hates Ralph, then as the movie goes on, they all realize that without Ralph, no one would play their game, and through the rest of the plot, we find that Wreck It Ralph is actually a hero, doing a lot of fixing of some bad things going on through his propensity for wrecking. Spoiler alert, by the end of the movie, they’re all friends.
So, in our Gospel story today, when Jesus overturns the tables of the money changers in the Temple and drives out the animals that were being sold there, he’s kind of like Wreck It Rabbi. He saw the animals and the money changers in the Temple, and he wrecked it. The people were pretty stunned saying, “What the heck just happened?”, eventually calling out, “Fix It Pharisees.”
Well, most of our Bibles probably say, “Jesus cleanse[d] the Temple.” If you’ve got a Bible that has little subject titles inserted in the text, then that insertion, that editor’s note, probably says, “Jesus cleanses the Temple.” It’s cute and catchy as titles go, but here’s the problem, Jesus wasn’t cleansing anything. See the animals and money changers, they were all supposed to be there. The blood sacrifice of animals was part of the temple worship, given as offerings to God for a variety of reasons, including forgiveness of sins. If you didn’t have the best or the right kind of animal of your own, well then you could purchase one. This was all prescribed in the law of Moses. So the people in weren’t making the temple dirty. They were doing exactly what they were supposed to be doing as prescribed in the law of Moses. The problem was that the system was broken. People were stuck under the weight of trying to manage their sin with God through animal sacrifice, and all of that time and effort and resources which could have gone to improving the lives of each other, went instead to trying to appease a seemingly angry God.
So, Jesus was not cleansing the Temple. He was reforming it. He was kinda taking a wrecking ball to his religion, actually, but he was following a long tradition of prophets and psalmists who kept saying over and over, “quit with this animal sacrifice stuff. The temple should be a place of prayer, and seriously, God doesn’t need any goats, or sheep, or cows, or doves. He made them; they are his already.” As the prophet Micah wrote:
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with tens of thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’
‘With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt-offerings, with calves a year old?
He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
Micah 6:7, 6, 8
Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with God. That’s what Wreck It Rabbi wanted for Temple worship. That’s what Wreck It Rabbi wants for our lives, and he is happy to wreck whatever gets in the way of that. Sometimes our worship getsbtoo performance based, with people getting very upset if someone makes a mistake in the movement or words of the worship. Wreck It Rabbi comes in and says, “this is supposed to be a house of prayer, not a theater company.” Sometimes folks get angry with children making noise, and Wreck It Rabbi comes in and says, “Let the little children come to me, for the kingdom of God belongs to them.” Sometimes we get so caught up in all that we do to prepare for our worship, that we end up thinking that our primary ministry is here, to prepare for our time here, and Wreck It Rabbi comes in and says, “Go in peace to love and serve me, in those you encounter outside of here, for that is your true worship.”
As Jesus comes along and wrecks things, disrupting our worship time, we sometimes get calls of “Fix It Father” from those who have been disrupted. Sometimes, it isn’t Jesus disrupting things, and we really do need to fix it. Other times, Wreck It Rabbi may want us to be disrupted, taking us out of our comfort and our routine in order to wake us up to see him in our lives beyond the Temple, the church, the worship.
By reforming the Temple, in the story we heard today, Wreck It Rabbi reminds us that our lives are not meant to lead us to worship. We don’t spend our time preparing ourselves to be worthy enough to worship God in just the right way. We spend time in worship and prayer to heal our hearts so that we can do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. That’s God’s desire for us. Our truest offerings during prayer and worship are the offerings of our hearts. Whatever is holding us back from doing justice and loving kindness, that is what we offer to God.
In the Morning Prayer service, there is a prayer called, “A Collect for Saturdays,” and I love this prayer except for one word, “sanctuary.” “Almighty God, who after the creation of the world rested from all your works and sanctified a day of rest for all your creatures: Grant that we, putting away all earthly anxieties may be duly prepared for the service of your sanctuary…” (BCP p. 99) Wait a minute. Is there anything we can do to make us righteous enough before God to be worthy enough to come near to the holy place where God dwells? No. We aren’t going to make ourselves more righteous than Jesus already has.
Wreck It Rabbi has no interest in gospels of sin management that keep us down under the heavy burden of fearing an angry God who feels that we are never good enough for him. That’s part of why he and the prophets took a wrecking ball to the animal sacrifice system of Temple worship, and thankfully, Wreck It Rabbi continues to wreck our worship and our ways of life whenever gospels of sin management keep us down, fearing an angry God, rather than trusting in Jesus’ Gospel of light and grace which tells us we are beloved children of a loving God, and that we are worthy to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God.
So, that prayer, then, that collect for Saturdays? I’ve changed that word “sanctuary” to “kingdom.” No we pray, “Almighty God, who after the creation of the world rested from all your works and sanctified a day of rest for all your creatures: Grant that we, putting away all earthly anxieties may be duly prepared for the service of your kingdom…” That is what our rest is for. That is what our worship and prayer is for, so that we may be duly prepared for the service of God’s kingdom, doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God.
What does that look like? Well, that’s going to be a bit different for all of us. For me, one of my passions is children and schools. I was at a meeting of faith leaders on Thursday morning with the HISD superintendent, Richard Carranza, and School Board president, Rhonda Skillern-Jones, among the topics discussed, they invited us to come to a training on March 29 to learn about how best to partner churches with schools to have folks be mentors for kids, to address the needs that principals tell us are there, and to be a part of the village that raises up kids in our community. You can bet I’m going to be there at that meeting because that’s my passion. That’s the broken thing that Wreck It Rabbi has given me a passion for where I would like to do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with God.
What about you? What broken thing has Wreck It Rabbi given you a passion for? What broken thing is Jesus calling you to fix? That’s why we’re here. Wreck It Rabbi has brought us here this morning to strengthen us, to heal our hearts, and to remind us that we are beloved children of a loving God so that as we leave this place, we may have eyes to see the broken places and systems of our world and say, “I’m going to wreck it,” and through that wrecking, to fix it, doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God.