Easter 4 – April 22, 2018

The fourth Sunday in Easter is known as ‘Good Shepherd Sunday’ because the readings are about sheep and shepherds.  We’ve just read Psalm 23, where David says ‘The Lord is my shepherd’ and John chapter 10, where Jesus says, ‘I am the good shepherd.’  

The people of Israel in the Old Testament were often called sheep by the prophets – and the leaders were often called ‘bad’ shepherds of the people.  Jesus contrasts himself with the leaders in the temple, calling himself the ‘Good’ shepherd. I always think that this is both good and bad news for us…  Good news because Jesus IS the one with strength and wisdom, with the knowledge to lead us whereever it is we are going. And bad news because we are reminded that we are indeed sheep.

Shepherding is not as common an occupation as it once was – and surely not as popular or as well known as it was in Jesus’ day.  So, what do we know about sheep?

Sheep are high maintenance animals.  Yes, their wool is maybe the best idea God ever had and they are tasty.  But sheep are high maintenance. They get lost easily and can easily lose their footing in fast water or even when they fall asleep.  That same wonderful wool that makes such lovely sweaters and warm clothes gives sheep an unusual center of gravity. When sleeping or resting, sheep have to keep their hooves on the ground.  If they don’t, they’ll roll over onto their backs with their legs in the air. And then they can panic and struggle to get back on their feet – which builds up gasses in their stomach and can kill them in a matter of hours if the sun is hot.

Sheep are high maintenance animals.  They are easily frightened. When one sheep in the herd is startled, all the sheep startle.  When they’re startled, they panic, expecting the worst. And then they run – without a plan, directionless, amok.

Sheep tend to graze the same patch of land over and over, even when the grass has been eaten.  Sheep would prefer to eat the grass down to the roots than move to a new, greener field. And the shepherds have to be careful when bringing the sheep to water.  Again, because of their beautiful wool, it’s important that the sheep drink from still water. Sheep easily lose their footing in flowing water and their wool gives them buoyancy so that once afloat, they have a hard time regaining their footing.  They are easily swept away in the current.

Does any of this sound like us?  Sheep are high maintenance and a good shepherd must always be quick to take care of whatever dangers arise.

The shepherd constantly counts the sheep to ensure that no one has wandered off and gotten into trouble.  When the sheep get frightened and want to run away, the shepherd knows how to calm them down. Every shepherd has his or her own particular call or noise that they make as they walk along, leading the sheep.  The sound of the shepherd’s voice leads the sheep from one place to another. The sound of the shepherd’s voice can calm them down when they’re frightened. When several flocks graze the same field or water at the same place, the sheep know the voice of their shepherd and when it’s time for the flocks to separate and move on, the flocks separate by following the call of their own shepherd.

Jesus is our good shepherd.  He is the one with the wisdom and strength, the knowledge and understanding needed to help us through our wilderness.  We cannot see what’s ahead of us. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow or next week or next month or next year. Yesterday I attended the funeral of my colleague and friend, The Rev. Adrian Amaya.  He died last Sunday of cancer at 51 years of age. He leaves a wife and two boys in high school. This was not what he had planned. This was not what he thought his future held. We never know how long we have here in this life.  We have no idea what the future of this parish looks like. How long will we be here? How will we all survive?

I don’t know.  You don’t know.  The Bishop doesn’t know.  No one knows. The good news is that we do not have to know.  Knowing probably wouldn’t change things anyway – we rarely do what we know we’re supposed to do – that’s why we don’t eat right, don’t get enough exercise, don’t keep to our budgets…  we are sheep!

We don’t know and we don’t need to know what will happen to us and our world tomorrow or the next day or the next.  What we DO need to know is the voice of our shepherd. Do we recognize the voice of Jesus? Do we listen to his call?  Do we follow where he leads?

What could be easier?  Listen to the call of Jesus and follow!  It WOULD be easy if we were more like dogs – obedient, faithful, smart, and quick to respond to the master’s call…  But we are more like sheep – easily distracted, easily frightened, prone to wander away and also prone to stay in places that no longer feed us, simply because those places are familiar to us.

Our challenge, our responsibility, our command is to follow the voice of Jesus, wherever it leads us.  Only the good shepherd knows the way through this wilderness. Only the good shepherd can provide the safety and the new pools of fresh water and the fields of green grass that we need.  May God grant us the courage and the faithfulness to follow where Jesus, our good shepherd, is leading us. Amen.

Posted on April 26, 2018 By tnancollas

Easter 3 April 15, 2018

What fears lurk around the edges of your heart?  What doubts do you harbor?

The disciples, in our Gospel lesson today from Luke, are gathered together, listening to the two travelers who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus and who had come back to announce that they recognized Jesus when he broke bread with them.  What an incredible story they were listening to, when in the middle of discussing the thing, Jesus appears with them.

It’s not clear whether the disciples believed the story of the travellers, but whether they did or did not believe – Jesus showed up.

Now imagine we are gathered with the disciples.  Do we believe?  Do we put any weight on the story?  After all, we saw the crucifixion.  We know Jesus died and was buried.  We know where his tomb is located.  We know that the man we gave our lives up for, the man we followed day after day, expecting to follow him to the end, lost his life in a cruel and unaccountable way so many years before we expected him to die.  What do we believe?  Was any of it real?  What are we supposed to do now?  What are we supposed to believe about these random stories of Jesus randomly showing up?  Our fears and doubts about this whole ‘following Jesus’ thing leave us lost and confused.

And then Jesus shows up – out of the blue.

And seems surprised that we are startled and terrified.  Of course we are terrified and startled.  Jesus is dead.  But here he is, standing right in front of us.  How can that be?  What does it mean?  What are we supposed to believe?

It doesn’t make any sense, but Jesus was really real, standing there in the midst of his disciples.  I can’t explain how it could be true – but then, I can’t explain how cell phones work or how birds know where to fly when winter comes on or how it is we fall in love…  These things happen; I just can’t explain them.

What I DO know is that God is faithful.  God shows up just when we need to believe, just when we’ve lost all hope, just when our fears and doubts have left us startled and terrified.  Somehow God provides just what we need, just when we need it.  Unexpectedly.  Startlingly.  Sometimes terrifying us.

As we think about the future of St. David’s, about the changes we face in the next few years – what are our fears and doubts?  What are we afraid of losing?  What are we afraid will happen?

And in our own personal lives – what are we afraid of? What doubts haunt?

We can be just as sure that Jesus will show up among us as he did on that Easter day so many years ago.  God is faithful.  We will have what we need, just when we need it.  Our work is to keep on doing what we already know to do.  So we will keep on breaking bread together, expecting to meet Jesus in our midst.

O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work.  Amen.

 

 

 

Posted on April 18, 2018 By Kristen

Easter Day – April 1, 2018

We don’t often read the resurrection story from the Gospel of Mark – it’s not very satisfying, although it’s probably accurate – the women go out and flee from the tomb, ‘for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.’ They were afraid.

They were not thinking about butterflies on that first Easter morn. They didn’t even know it was Easter. They only knew that the man who was their Rabbi and beloved leader had been put to death by the Roman authorities. And they knew that his body needed to be attended to, since there had not been time for the burial rituals before the Sabbath.

Imagine yourself there with the women. We have heavy hearts, but we go to the tomb to take care of Jesus one last time. And we discuss how we’re going to get the grave opened. We get to the grace site only to see that the stone has been rolled away. This can’t be good news. And instead of finding the body of Jesus, we find a young man in a white robe who tries to tell us that Jesus isn’t dead, he’s been raised. Been raised? What does that mean? Who is this man? What has he done with Jesus? Why would we go tell the disciples that they need to get to Galilee and meet Jesus? That’s just crazy! This whole situation is crazy! WHAT is going on? Run away! Run away!

Frederick Buechner, in his sermon “The Secret in the Dark,” says that the gospel stories of the Resurrection are decidedly different from the Christmas stories. At Christ’s birth there are choirs of angels and brilliant lights in the night sky. At his Resurrection, it’s as if the thing is so unbelievable that ‘they tell it so quietly that you have to lean close to be sure what they are telling. They tell it as softly as a secret, as something so precious, and holy, and fragile, and unbelievable, and true, that to tell it any other way would be somehow to dishonor it. To proclaim the resurrection the way they do, you would have to say it in whispers: “Christ has risen.” Like that.’

We do not understand how it happened. It is a mystery to us. But we do know that caterpillars go into the chrysalis and come out butterflies. They change from one form to another in a way that looks like going from death into new life. It is terrifying if you’ve never seen it before – like a mummy coming into life, scrabbling to escape it’s binds.

How many times have we been presented with the opportunity for new life and we have run away in terror and amazement?

Jesus will appear to various disciples in various places over the course of the next fifty days. Almost every time that Jesus shows up the first thing he says is, ‘don’t be afraid.’ Why? Why does Jesus say the same thing every time he shows up? Because it’s always terrifying and amazing to meet up with someone you’re pretty sure has died. And not in a dream – in real life… It won’t be until Pentecost, when the disciples are blown by the Spirit from their hiding place out into the streets, with flames of fire on their heads and fired up to proclaim that Good News of God in Christ, that they will lose their fear and begin living into the new life they’ve been given.

What are we afraid of this morning? What Good News are we longing to hear? Are we brave enough to believe in resurrection? Can we trust that God will lead US through death into new life?

The promise of Easter is the promise of new life rising out of the death of the old. God’s love works in our world, works in us, to make all things new.

It’s risky business, this transformational living that God calls us into. We don’t know what we shall be on the other side. But why would we want to stay as caterpillars when we have the opportunity to fly?

Even though the women in our gospel passage are afraid and flee from the tomb, they will meet with Jesus, they will be transformed. This is a temporary flight. They will become members of the church at Pentecost and will help to transform with world through the love and power of God.

Do not be alarmed. The power of God that raised Jesus from the dead is the same power waiting for us to let go of our old lives and bring us new life. Dare we trust this crazy story? Alleluia. Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia. Amen.

Posted on April 1, 2018 By tnancollas

Lent 5 – March 18, 2018

We have a fierce and fearsome story in our gospel lesson for today.  Before this passage from John’s gospel, Jesus has just entered Jerusalem on the back of a donkey and the crowds gathered for the Passover have gone out to watch.  The Pharisees turn to one another and say, “You see, you can do nothing.  Look, the world has gone after him!”  And to put truth to their words, some God-fearing Greeks go up to Philip and say, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

It’s a fierce and fearsome story, not just because Jesus, very close to his death at this point, explains that he will die.  It’s a fearful and fearsome story because Jesus tells his disciples, because Jesus tells us, that if we are truly followers, truly disciples, then we will walk the way that Jesus walked.

Jesus goes from this conversation with the disciples into the upper room where he celebrates his last supper with them.  After their Passover feast, Jesus will take Peter, James and John with him to pray in the garden of Gethsemane.  We know where the story goes from there – to judgment, to the cross, and then to the tomb.  And Jesus says that if we’re truly his disciples, we will walk in his steps.

Are we really ready for this?

It’s the upside-down kingdom again.  Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit…

It’s just about planting season – you may have already begun your seeds indoors.  I’m anxious to get some basil and lettuces started – although the garden is completely covered in snow!  Of course we know that one seed is just one seed until it is planted.  And through the death of the seed, new life and much fruit is gained.

But Jesus isn’t speaking metaphorically here – he’s really talking about death and life.  He IS the seed which will die.  His real death will bear much fruit.  We are disciples because of his death.

Jesus follows his words about the grain of wheat with these words: ‘those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.

Next Sunday is Palm Sunday.  Holy week will begin.  Are we ready to follow where Jesus is going to walk?  Are we ready to follow in his footsteps?  Are you ready to give up your life?  Am I ready to give up mine?

Jesus is so focused on his Father’s work that his own life is meaningless in comparison.  His life is so bound up with living the Kingdom of God that Jesus is able to walk into Jerusalem and certain death.  Yes, he has his moments of struggle with the life he’s been asked to lead – we see a moment of it in our passage.  ‘Now my soul is troubled,’ Jesus says.  And we see him in the garden praying through his fear and doubt; ‘not my will, but your will be done’ he finally prays.  Jesus knows that his own death is near and he knows that his death will allow God’s love and power to be made manifest.  ‘Father, glorify your name,’ he says.

There are echoes of the conversation with Nicodemus in our passage today.  Last week we read from John’s gospel chapter three where Jesus says, ‘Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.’  And now in chapter 12 of John’s gospel Jesus says, ‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’  Echoes of the salvation found through looking to the serpent on the pole – but at what cost to Jesus to be lifted up?

Jesus knows what he has been called to do.  He knows it will cost him everything.  And still he does what God asks of him.  Jesus knows that through his life, death and resurrection, all the world will know of God’s redeeming love.  All the world will know that there is nothing we can do that can separate us from the love of God.  All the world will know that human beings simply do not have the power to get rid of God or God’s love.  Not even our power to put to death can overcome God’s power of life and love.

Are we ready to walk where Jesus walked?  Are we ready to follow in his footsteps, even if it requires that we give up everything?

We must.  We simply must get ready, we must follow in his footsteps, we must give up our own lives and take on the life God asks us to live.  There are people all around us asking to see Jesus.  And the only way for them to meet Christ is through us.  We have a responsibility to the world.  We know God’s love.  We are called to share God’s love with the world.  We have a responsibility to God.  We know God’s love.  We are called to share God’s love with the world.

It’s time for us to prepare to walk with Jesus through Holy Week – to join in the triumphant crowd throwing palms and shouting ‘Hosanna,’ to share that last Passover feast with him in the upper room, to pray with him in the garden, to wait with the disciples through those last awful hours when it seemed as if the whole world was coming to an end.  We do not get to Easter morning without going through Good Friday.   In this upside-down kingdom we do not get to life without going through death.

There are people all around us asking to see Jesus.  Are we ready?  Amen.

Posted on March 22, 2018 By Kristen

Lent 4 – March 11, 2018

We’ve reached the mid-point of Lent.  The church used to celebrate this Sunday as Laetare (leetairy)  or Refreshment Sunday.  Some parishes still use rose-colored vestments on this Sunday. Liturgically, this Sunday was a moment to take some refreshment in remembering that we’re half-way through Lent, that Easter is coming, and read the Gospel passage from John where Jesus feeds the 5,000 souls with five loaves and two fishes.  Since we changed to the Common Lectionary, our lessons changed, but the theme has not.  It’s still Refreshment Sunday and I’d like to suggest that we find our refreshment by looking up – an upside down action in our season of introspection.

When the people of Israel rebel (again) while wandering through the wilderness, snakes show up and cause havoc and death.  God tells Moses to create a snake and put it on a pole in the middle of the encampment.  Anyone bitten by a snake can look up to the snake on the pole and find healing.

Did the snake itself provide the healing?  No.  God worked and worked with the people of Israel to move them beyond the worship of idols.  The snake was not what healed the Israelites – what healed them was their faith that God would be true to God’s word if they, the people, looked up.

The people of Israel had been focusing on their surroundings – on what they had and what they did not have.  They had food, but it wasn’t the kind of food they wanted.  At this point in their journey, the Israelites are on the verge of the Promised Land.  They’ve had manna to eat for a while.  When they complained about the manna, and their hunger for meat, God provided for them by sending quail.  Manna from heaven.  Meat from heaven.  But they are still not satisfied, they’re still focusing on what they do not have and imagine would be so much better.  No wonder God gets angry when they detest the ‘miserable food’ God has provided.

The Israelites were healed from the snakebites when they got out of their tents and looked up at the snake Moses made.  Looking up healed them.  Looking up changed their perspective.  Looking up brought their eyes back to the deliverance and guidance God was providing for them through the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire.  Looking up took them out of their miserable complaining and brought them back into contact with God.

We might notice here that the Israelites asked for the serpents to be removed – to go away.  God provides healing for the Israelites who are bitten, but allows the serpents to stay.  The serpents were still a threat, the Israelites still lived with the serpents, but they no longer meant death for those who were bitten.

The Israelites were saved by grace through faith that God would heal them if they looked up at the serpent on the pole Moses raised in the wilderness.

Nicodemus, the Pharisee leader, comes to Jesus at night in order to have a theological conversation.  After their discussion about being born again, or born from above – because the word Jesus uses can be understood both ways – Jesus tells Nicodemus that just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, the Son of Man would also be lifted up – because God loves and intends to save all of us who are willing.  Jesus doesn’t say it, but just as the Israelites needed to look up at the serpent on the pole, so we also need to look up to see the Son of Man on the cross.  Our refreshment, our healing, our salvation comes from looking up.

We need refreshment.  The world is not a friendly place and everyone, it seems, is working harder and falling farther behind.  We need refreshment.  We need healing, a change of perspective, we need to remember that we ARE being led by God, that God loves us and is with us every moment of every day.

Sometimes it seems as if the whole world  is against us.  Our various colds and viruses and physical illnesses fight against us.  The weather has fought against us.  It’s so very easy, during this season when we’re supposed to examine our lives, so very easy to get stuck looking down – at ourselves, our needs, our struggle to make positive changes in the world, in the parish, in ourselves and our families.

Moses tells the people – look up and find healing, find perspective, find hope.  Jesus tells Nicodemus that the Son of Man will be raised up and we can look up to find healing, find perspective, and find hope.

God does not get stuck in the things that get us stuck.  Even death, that most permanent of problems, is no match for the power of God.  That’s the Easter story.  There is nothing that can happen to us that God can’t see us through.

When we look up, we remember that there is nothing impossible for God.

When we look up, we remember that God has led us this far and God will continue to lead us, through good times and through difficult times, all the way home.

When we look up, we change our perspective from ourselves, our own problems, our own ruts, and see again that we are not alone, that everyone has struggles and trials, joy and sorrow, seasons of health and times of illness.

When we look up, we realize that we might even be able to help someone else along the way – just as God has sent people into our lives to help us.

When we look up we will find that today’s trouble, whatever it is, is not the whole story, we will see that our journey might seem long and difficult but our future is secure.

When we look up we realize that we are deeply loved by God.

When we look up, we find healing, we find perspective, and we find hope.  Refreshment indeed.  May we look up.  Amen.

Posted on March 15, 2018 By Kristen

Lent 3 – March 4, 2018

In the summer of 2007 we took a family vacation to Turkey.  My brother in law & sister in law live and work in Turkey and they planned a great vacation for all 18 of us.  In Turkey, everything was a negotiation.  Even in the restaurants it was expected that there would be a negotiation for the amount and the cost of the food we would eat!  If possible, the negotiations would include cups of tea for everyone – this was true when we went to buy food or to buy rugs from a large shop or a backgammon set from a very small souvenir shop.  Tea and then negotiations.

Everyone wants to get the best deal they can possibly get – the buyer & the seller.  That’s true in any negotiation we go into, isn’t it?  Americans don’t typically bargain when we shop – except when we buy cars or real estate or antiques.  And in those situations we want to get the best deal, whether we’re buying or selling.

Too often, I think, we treat our relationship with God as a negotiation.  If we behave as good Christians should, then God should take care of us in the way we expect.  From humankind’s earliest moments, it seems, we’ve believed that the gods can be appeased – that there are certain things we can or must do in order to curry God’s favor.  Sacrifice some animals or food, engage in certain practices, and then the gods will look on us with compassion and send the rains or stop the rains or send a plentiful harvest.  Honestly, this weekend it would have been nice if we could have made some sort of offering to stop the snow…  We’ve got the tree folk coming tomorrow to clean up our downed branches.

But God has always had other ideas about us – looking for a relationship with us, instead of seeking appeasement for God’s bad moods or our bad behavior.  God is looking for loving relationship where we expect transactions.

When Moses received the Ten Commandments it was in the context of a covenant with God.  In the 19th chapter of Exodus, God says to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites:  You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.  Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples.  Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.  These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.”

God is covenanting a special relationship with the people of Israel.  God does not say, “If you keep my commands, I’ll answer all your prayers with a yes.”  Or that God would heal every illness, or protect us from harm.  It’s not a matter of we do whatever God wants and then God will do whatever we want.  God isn’t promising a set of transactions.

My Old Testament professor in seminary, Dr. Phyllis Trible, is a brilliant scholar and I tried to write down every word she said in class because she was just that good.  When she taught us this section of Exodus she said that we usually think of the Ten Commandments as ‘proscriptive’ when they are actually ‘descriptive.’  Proscriptive vs. descriptive.

Jesus sums up all the Law and the Prophets with ‘Love God with your whole heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.’  What he’s saying is that right relationship with God and our neighbors will look like this: we will worship nothing and no one else but God and we won’t promise anything in God’s name that we can’t deliver.  We will take care of ourselves by ensuring we get at least one day of rest a week.  We will love our parents and treat them with the respect they deserve.  We’ll treat everyone with respect and love and we won’t lie or cheat or steal or kill.  We will love God with our whole heart, soul and mind.  We will love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  The Ten Commandments are a description of right relationship:  relational not transactional.

The Apostle Paul says that God’s foolishness is wiser than our wisdom and God’s weakness is stronger than our strength.  While we rational humans are trying to prove or disprove the existence of God and whether Jesus was really God or just a really wonderful human being, God allows us to use our rational thought and brute force to try and get rid of Him.  It’s as if God, in Christ, said – go ahead, do your worst, kill me off, just try and lose me.  God’s wisdom looks like foolishness to us – God’s strength and love are found in Christ’s death… and resurrection.  God allows us to do our worst and then returns to tell us not to be afraid – we are forgiven and deeply loved.

If God were transactional, we’d all be dead meat.  We kill God off and yet we live.  We doubt, we are unfaithful, we stamp our feet and demand our way.   We treat ourselves with disrespect. As we study Jim Wallis’ America’s Original Sin, we are reminded how we still disrespect each other.  God doesn’t give us what we deserve, although we usually reap what we sow.  Throughout our lives, whether we are good or evil or a little of everything, God loves us.  It’s an upside-down kingdom – where we find God’s love, in spite of the best and the worst in us.

Jesus goes into the Temple in Jerusalem and finds a marketplace – a place of transactions rather than a house of prayer and devotion.

The marketplace within the Temple was put there in order to help people worship God correctly.  The initial impulse was a good one – everyone coming to the Temple to make a sacrifice needed to have a perfect animal or offering.  The market allowed folks to come from afar and purchase their offering rather than bringing it with them on their journey.  It made life easier.  And then, because they were trying to keep the Temple holy, unclean Roman coin had to be exchanged for clean Temple coin.  And no market transaction is complete without a little haggling – you want to get the best price for your goods and the best product for your money.  Before long, the reason for going to the Temple gets lost in buying and trading…  And relationship with God becomes a transaction negotiated for the best price.  So Jesus clears the marketplace out of the Temple – doing what he does best, turning our expectations of what ought to be on its head.  Worship and prayer are not transactions meant to get us a good deal from God.  Worship and prayer are about our relationship with God.  Thanking God for the good gifts we have received.  Asking God for help to love more deeply, to amend our lives, asking God to surround those we love with health and hope and salvation.

The kingdom of God is an upside-down kingdom.  It is relational, not transactional.  God loves us and there isn’t a thing we can do about it.  As we journey through the desert of Lent, may we remember that God’s love is always with us, closer yet than breathing.  Amen.

 

 

Posted on March 8, 2018 By Kristen

Lent 2 – February 25, 2018

We see another instance of God’s upside-down kingdom in our Gospel reading today…  Peter has an idea of what ‘should’ happen with Jesus and their future.  Jesus says the kingdom of God is somewhat different than what Peter hopes and expects. 

Although Jesus repeatedly tells his disciples what is going to happen, that he’s going to be put to death and then rise again after three days, it is inconceivable to the disciples that Messiah would suffer such a fate.  The future that Peter imagines for Jesus and himself as a close follower simply does not include death.  Messiah is supposed to be born to bring the Kingdom of God to earth in as literal a way as King David ruled so many years ago.   Peter and his friends expect Jesus to overthrow the Roman Rule of Palestine not be put to death by it.  And if Jesus, Messiah, dies, then what hope is there for any of his disciples to survive?  Peter has good reason to be worried.  He cannot imagine the future that God has planned.

I’m sure that Abraham was as surprised by God’s words to him as the disciples were surprised by Jesus’ words to them.  We know that Abraham believed the promise God made to him – the Apostle Paul says that Abraham’s belief and faith in God’s promise was a sign of Abraham’s righteousness.  

But comparing the response of Abraham to the response of Peter isn’t really fair.  After all, the promise that Abraham receives is good – many nations will be born through the child that he and his beloved Sarah conceive.  They are both too old for this promise to come true, it’s not what they expect, but they have hope that the promise will come to pass.  And promises of good things to come are always so much easier to believe.

What Peter faces in the words of Jesus are NOT so good, at least not at first glance.  I imagine that Peter and the rest of the disciples stop listening at about the point where Jesus says that he’ll be killed.  That is not what they expect to happen, that is not the way they think Messiah will bring the Kingdom of God to earth.  So Peter rejects the promise that God is making through Jesus because it doesn’t fit the future he hopes for.  

What do we learn about the upside down kingdom from our readings for today?  What do we find that will help us through this season of Lent?

First of all – God’s promises are sure.  God promises Abraham and Sarah a child and many descendents.  God fulfille d that promise through Isaac – son born of a man and a woman both too old to have children.  How many millions of Jews have claimed Abraham as their father?  How many Christians have claimed Abraham as our spiritual father?  How many Muslims have claimed Abraham as their spiritual father?  As many as the stars in the heavens?  God’s  promises are sure.

Jesus is rejected by the authorities of his day, both religious and civil.  He is put to death and stays in the tomb three days.  And on the third day, Jesus rises to new life and appears to Peter and the others many times before his ascension.  Jesus, Messiah, brings the Kingdom of God to earth through his death and resurrection.  God’s promises are sure.

The second thing we can learn is that we need to let go of our ideas about how God should work – in our own lives, in the lives of others and in the world.  Peter and all the disciples just can’t get past the idea that Messiah will reign during their lifetime.  They cannot imagine that Messiah has come to die.  Dying is not part of the life they expect to lead.  Yet Jesus tells them, ‘those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and the sake of the gospel, will save it.’  It is an upside-down kingdom.  God does not behave in the ways that we expect.

God’s promises are sure AND God does not behave in the ways we expect.

The last thing we learn is that if we ARE going to live the life God has planned, we have to include death and loss in our reckoning.  If we want to save our lives we’ll lose them.  But if we die to ourselves, to our visions of how God will fulfill God’s promises; if we die to ownership and control of our lives so that God can own and control and live through us, then our lives are saved and God’s promises fulfilled in us and through us.  

Dying is difficult.  Loss is difficult.  God knows how hard it is for us to live faithfully.  That’s why the season of Lent is so important for us – an extended period of time to examine our lives.  We need time to remember that our lives are not our own. We need time to relinquish all those habits and things that get in the way of our relationship with God.  We need time to remember that God is faithful, that God can imagine an amazing future that we cannot, that God longs for us and wants to use us to establish the Kingdom of God on earth.  In God’s upside down kingdom we are promised eternal life.  All we have to do is die.  Amen.

Lent 1 – February 18, 2018

Our season of Lent has begun.  You can see and hear the changes – different colors of hangings and vestments, different service booklet, different service music, different words spoken in the liturgy.  Our time of wandering in the desert has begun, like Jesus wandered for forty days in our gospel reading.  Last week we were up on the mountain, watching with Peter and James and John as Jesus is revealed in his glory.  This week we watch Jesus go from the joy of baptism and God’s pronouncement, ‘You are my son, the beloved,’ into the wilderness with its temptations and wild beasts, to be ministered to by angels.

Here is a mark of God’s ‘upside-down kingdom,’ where the first are last and the last are first and where everything is NOT as we would expect.  Jesus does not begin his ministry with his baptism and God’s voice thundering approval.  He doesn’t start on a high note.  Jesus begins hia ministry alone, in the harsh habitat of the desert.

If we were going to write the story – or at least if I were going to write the story, I’d do it differently – I’d send Jesus into the desert first.  There he would wander, deal with his temptations and the wild beasts.  He would be ministered to by angels.  And he would have a profound religious experience which would propel him back into civilization, into the river for his baptism and  God’s pronouncement of approval and then Jesus would choose his disciples and begin his work.

In God’s upside-down kingdom, stripping down for baptism in the river isn’t enough.  The stripping away that happens in a harsh landscape is still needed.  Jesus needed to learn the practice of losing in order to find.  

In his book, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes, Belden Lane writes of the desert fathers,

“What they fled with greatest fear was not the external world, but the world they carried inside themselves: an ego-centeredness needing constant approval, driven by compulsive behavior, frantic in its effort to attend to a self-image that always required mending.”  

He goes on to say,

“Ultimately, they chose to live in a desert habitat because they knew how well it teaches, without even trying, the importance of being emptied, the spiritual lessons of kenosis…  Backpackers learn, sometimes the hard way, that simplicity is always a question of knowing what to leave behind. This is a desert truth, translatable to the rest of one’s life as well…  It is not so much a matter of adding all the active virtues to one’s practice of living as of relinquishing everything that can possibly be abandoned.  How much can you leave behind?  That is the desert’s question.”

Jesus commits himself at his baptism and then goes into the wilderness to learn how to live into it – by giving up, emptying himself of himself, kenosis, in order to be filled with the Spirit and most effectively do God’s work.  He studied the question ‘How much can you leave behind?’  

As we enter the wilderness this Lent, we ask ourselves the desert question, too.  How much can we leave behind?  Can we give up our need for the approval of others?  Can we let go of our compulsions – even if we believe them to be good?  Can we let go of our ideas of success, of what it means to win?  Can we let go of our instinct to control our lives, our world?  Can we empty ourselves of ourselves in order to be filled with God’s Spirit and most effectively do God’s work?

This is the wilderness into which we are called during Lent.  How much can we leave behind?  What ought we to leave behind?  What stripping away is needed?

In God’s upside-down kingdom we must give in order to receive, empty ourselves in order to be filled.  When we come to the rail to take the bread and wine it’s our custom to receive the bread with open palms.  I suggest that each time we come to the rail this Lent, when we open our hands to receive, we also give up whatever it is the Spirit nudges us to let go of, and then allow that place to be filled with God’s Spirit, filled with the Body and Blood of Christ.

I don’t know what the Spirit will urge you to do – there may be something new each week or it may be the same thing every week, week after week.  What ought we abandon?  How much can we leave behind?  How full dare we let the Spirit fill us?  May the desert challenge us this Lenten season.  Amen.

Ash Wednesday – February 14, 2018

‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’  Today we begin the season of Lent – we enter an ancient time of penitence and preparation.  Today’s Gospel lesson from Matthew is the gospel always read on Ash Wednesday.  And that last phrase – where your treasure is, there your heart will be also – asks us, or rather challenges us, to examine our priorities and reorder our lives.  What do we treasure?  What does God treasure?  What do we need to change to bring our priorities in line with God’s?

What does God treasure?

God treasures human beings.  God treasures us.  What an appropriate idea for St. Valentine’s day!  In John’s gospel Jesus says to Nicodemus, ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him…’

Not to condemn, but to rescue, to redeem, to save us from ourselves and our small minds and hearts, from our failure to love.  Our sins, our failures, our separation from God comes from a failure to love God, to love others, or love to ourselves.  We do not treasure what God treasures.  Often we try to overcome our failure to love with specific actions that ‘prove’ our respectability and faithfulness to God.

Jesus calls us on behavior that’s only skin deep – our Gospel is from Matthew’s version of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus warns us about looking pious. He’s challenges us to consider WHY we do what we do.  Giving to others, praying for others, denying oursevles or fasting, especially in service to others – these are all wonderful Christian disciplines.  And these actions help make the world a better place – closer to the Kingdom.  Any of them will strengthen our spiritual muscles and draw us closer to God and to each other.  But we always run the risk of doing the right things for the wrong reasons.  Are we looking for our egos to be stroked through our righteous living?  Or would we be fine if no one ever knew the good that we do?  Are our actions fueled by love?

When a lawyer asks Jesus which of the commandments is the most important, Jesus replies, ‘”You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”  This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’  The Law of Love is the law by which we are judged.  What does God treasure?  Human beings.  What ought we to treasure?  Each other.  It’s all about love.

The season of Lent gives us the chance to examine our lives and our priorities.  It’s all about making sure that our relationships are in right order.  Do we love God?  Do we treasure our relationship with God?  Do we have compassion for ourselves?  Do we love others, even those who might not love us?  Do we treasure our relationships?  Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.  Amen.

Posted on February 15, 2018 By Kristen

Last Epiphany – February 11, 2018

Today is the last Sunday of the Epiphany season.  This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent will begin.  Each year, on the last Sunday of Epiphany, we read the Gospel story of the transfiguration of Christ.  And in this lectionary year B, we have the odd story of Elijah and Elisha as Elijah moves into the realm of God.  Sandwiched in between the OT story and the gospel is the small paragraph from Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, in which Paul talks about seeing the light of the gospel of Christ.

All three lessons talk about seeing.  And our gospel lesson includes hearing as well.  The voice in the cloud tells Peter, James and John, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’  Ears to listen and eyes to see what God is doing in the world seems to be the theme of the day.

I love the Elijah and Elisha stories.  The prophets were really crotchety characters and the stories told about them seem so lively.  Biblical scholars say that during the time of the Kings there were bands of ecstatics – people who prophesied and experienced God in ways we would call charismatic.  These are the groups that Elijah goes to meet with in our lesson.  And each time he stops, they pull Elisha aside and say,’you know, today’s the day that Elijah goes…’ And I imagine with increasing impatience Elisha replies, ‘I know.  Shut up!’ Elisha’s stubbornness, though, allows him to witness what happens to Elijah when the Lord takes him in the chariot of fire.  Eyes to see.  And with the seeing, God gives to Elisha a double share of Elijah’s spirit, a double share of the spirit of God which empowered Elijah.

Peter, James and John follow Jesus up the mountain and are given the privilege of seeing Elijah and Moses with a transfigured Jesus.  These three men were the closest of his disciples.  The transfiguration occurs near the end of Jesus’ life and it’s interesting that Jesus tells the three not to mention what they’ve seen until after the Son of man has risen from the dead.  I imagine that they don’t immediately say anything about what they’ve seen because they don’t understand what they’ve heard – the Son of man will be raised from the dead?  What?

The disciples have no idea, they don’t understand what’s about to happen to Jesus and happen to them.  Their world is about to turn upside down.  Soon after the transfiguration Jesus goes up to Jerusalem for his last Passover where he’s be taken and crucified, dies and is buried, and then rises again.  Not what the disciples expect to happen.  After the resurrection, I imagine that Peter, James and John talk about their experience on the mountain and say, ‘ah, that’s what he meant.’  And I imagine that their experience on the mountain gave them strength to do the work God gave them to do in establishing the church.  They had seen Jesus in all his glory.  They had heard the voice of God.

Where does that leave us?  Do we have eyes to see and ears to hear?  Have we seen?  Have we heard?  It may be that you have had a mountaintop experience, felt or seen God in strange and wonderful circumstances like James or John or Peter.  It may be that you’ve seen a chariot of fire. Maybe God has spoken to you through other people, through dreams or circumstances – like the woman who heard God speak to her through the billboard asking her to consider the priesthood.  Perhaps, like Elijah, you’ve been drawn closer to God through the sound of sheer silence.

God speaks to us in unexpected ways at unexpected times through unexpected means.  Peter, James and John heard God on the mountain.  God shows God’s power in unexpected ways at unexpected times through unexpected means.  Elijah rode a whirlwind into heaven.  The disciples saw the light and glory of Christ in the transfigured Jesus.  We must take the time to listen deeply and watch closely for God’s words and God’s actions.

Part of the reason we need each other is so that we can hear God’s voice and see God in action – Elisha sees God in and through Elijah.  The disciples see God in and through Jesus.  Paul says, ‘it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’ to us.  So we have the light of Christ shining in us, shining into and out of our hearts, in order to be seen and known to the rest of the world.  We use our eyes to see and our ears to hear and then we, too, reflect the words and actions of God to the world around us.

Like Elisha, like James and Peter and John, may we watch closely and listen deeply for God in the world around us and in each other.  And then may the light of Christ be seen in and through us so that the world may know God’s power and love.  Amen.

Posted on February 15, 2018 By Kristen