Revdonna's Blog

Turning the world upside down. Acts 17.6

What is Truth?

You can’t handle the _____________.

The whole _________ and nothing but the ______________.

_________ or dare.

_________ hurts.

We hold these ___________ (truths) to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Great words, but are they true. Put another way, does the fact that Thomas Jefferson who wrote those words and many of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence owned and traded in men, women, and children, made money and wealth from slavery, does the fact that they believed that only white men who were educated and wealthy enough to own land were truly equal, and the fact that women didn’t even enter the picture, do those facts make those words less true?

You see there is a difference between facts and truth. As poet, author, and speaker Maya Angelou has said, “There’s a world of difference between truth and facts. Facts can obscure the truth.” I think Pontius Pilate would agree. I also think knowlege, that awareness is behind his now timeless question, “what is truth?”.

You see he knew the facts. He wasn’t a dummy. He knew it was Passover. A tense time for the people. A time when they celebrated God rescuing and redeeming them from another, a different, overlord and empire. He knew the people didn’t come to this festival just to remember something God did once in the past, but to pray and look forward to God acting today. He knew that some people would agitate and perhaps do even more to free the people of God from Roman rule and oppression. And, Pilate knew the religious leaders had it in for Jesus, that they wanted to get rid of him. He also knew that Jesus was innocent. Pilate could see the facts; he was looking for the truth.

I think a lot of us are more like Pilate than we would first admit. I know I am. We know the facts. The facts are people get sick, children get cancer, some parents hurt their children. The facts are we are burning and using up our planet and our resources. The facts are the wealthiest in our country are getting richer and the rest of us aren’t, in fact many are poorer. The fact is our economic and educational systems do not encourage justice and equality. The facts are that our policies and laws often target poor people and people of color. The facts are sometimes planes crash, and countries fight wars with others or with themselves. The facts are that while there is only one race, the human race, we use our ethnic and cultural differences as reasons for mean-spiritedness, hatred, and even violence. The facts are sometimes marriages and relationships end. The facts are people lie to one another.

Those are the facts. What is truth? What is the truth that helps us make sense in a senseless world. What is the truth that goes beyond all these facts of life?

In John’s gospel Jesus has a lot to say about truth. Jesus uses the word truth 21 times in John’s gospel. If you add up all the times he says the word truth in the other three gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke it totals 6. In John’s gospel truth is a big deal.

I think it’s a pretty big deal in life too. The slide show over here has just a few of Jesus’s words about truth. I think a central word, is Jesus’ statement–I am the way, the truth, and the life. So if Jesus is the truth, what does that mean? What do we believe about Jesus?

Who is Jesus to you?

We have a lot of things to say about Jesus. It all boils down to being connected to him, being grounded, tied and bound to him. Jesus is our truth. His life, his words, his work that is not facts–but our truth.

And that truth will set us free, but that truth in our story for today was bound, bound by ropes, perhaps even chains. That is fact, that jesus was arrested and bound. But The Truth is that it was not chains and weapons, betrayers and soldiers that made him stand before Pilate. It was love. Jesus was not bound by violence and force, but by love. His love for us. Jesus ties himself to us, to all of us.

One of the good things about being a city church is not having a church cemetery–like some country churches. It saves us a lot of headache and hard work. Well at some time I came across a story of a small country church, their cemetery had a fieldstone wall around it. Well as it happened one day a not so beloved member of the community died. He was a mean and bitter man. He had served time for some crime that well, there were lots of rumors about. Anyway, he died and a member of his family asked for him to be buried in the church cemetery. The cemetery committee met and voted to deny the request. They would not allow him to be buried on their sacred ground, but just outside the cemetery wall. So the pastor, just a couple of people from his family held his funeral. It was a Saturday, as many funerals go. The next morning as members of the church drove past the cemetery, they were shocked to see that the fieldstone wall had been moved. It now went around the newly filled grave .

Whatever the facts are, whether it was moved overnight by some hard working individuals or by a miracle. Either way, the facts don’t matter. The truth does. And the truth is. Jesus is friend, teacher, brother, healer, savior. Facts do not guide us each day. Facts do not give us comfort in grief. Facts do not give us hope in pain. Jesus is claiming us. We belong to the truth, to him. Jesus is our truth. It is through him that we see, judge, understand, and give meaning to the facts of this life. The truth is that God is love, Jesus is from God, we belong with Jesus, Jesus is truth, the truth that we belong to, the truth that binds us together is love. That is our truth. Amen.

Don’t “Like” Jesus

It’s not a lie. Really, Peter is not lying. When he denies Jesus, and says I am not– I am not a disciple of Jesus. Peter is not lying. You see at that moment, the moment he opened his mouth to deny Jesus, to save himself- he quit being a disciple.
When questioned that night by the woman gatekeeper and by the slaves around the fire. Peter is asked are you a disciple of Jesus. Peter says– I am not. He says no–and he’s not lying.

While Peter may have physically followed Jesus who has been arrested by temple police and is being questioned by the religious leaders and authorities, Peter physically follows but to save himself he bails. He chickens out; he lies and in his words the truth has come out. He is no longer a disciple, no longer a student of Jesus.

His lie speaks the truth.

What Peter is admitting in denying Jesus is that there is no on-again off-again following Jesus. We can’t just follow Jesus when it’s convenient and safe. Peter may at that moment is what we say a fare weather Christian. You know the type, when everything’s going smooth and good, when it seems like blessings are all around, then God is good. It’s easy to “like” Jesus. You who are on facebook, you know what I’m talking about. You know how easy it is to just click that “like” button. But it doesn’t really mean anything. There’s nothing to loose.

But that night outside Annas, the religious leaders house, Peter had lots to lose, and he was scared.

I know what that’s like, and I’m pretty sure we all know what that’s like. Peter’s not the only one whose faced a dilemma–when to claim your faith. You know what I mean. Think about those times when you wanted to say something, you know you should speak up or act out for what is right, for what our faith says is right, and instead we’ve shied away. Kept our mouths shut, our heads down, perhaps even closed our eyes and covered our ears to deny what’s going on. We don’t want to get involved because, well because it might hurt or cost something. We may not be like Peter and in this country actually face physical harm, torture, or death. Although that is not always true.

The cost could be a friendship, the cost could be peace at home or at work, or with neighbors. Dietrich Bonhoeffer the Lutheran Christian who died for his faith in God and his work against Hitler, tells us “when Christ calls [someone], he bids [them] come and die”.

As I said it may not be literal physical death, but it may. This week I heard the story of
Mona Iskander. She is the mother of Fadi Samir, a nineteen year old Egyptian who was arrested and mistreated and abused. He was charged with being a member of the radical islamic group the islamic brotherhood. But as the crucifix tattoo on his arm shows, he is a radical follower of Jesus who is speaking out about the injustice in his country. And his mother, while she fears for her sons life, encourages him, supports him, and speaks out as well.

This week some of you may have heard that on Thursday, Fred Phelps, founding pastor of the small but infamous Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, had died. Under Mr. Phelps leadership and teaching this very small family church hit the news a lot because they protested at soldiers funerals. He preached a hate-filled message against the acceptance and equality for gay, LGBT people in our country. He taught that natural disasters and man-made horrors like the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting were God’s punishment for acceptance of homosexuality. Some other Christians, To their credit spoke out, some Christians counter-protested and demonstrated the true gospel–that of God’s love.

Those are just two examples.
In each of our lives we will have more. Some big, but many much littler daily ways when being a real follower of Jesus will be a challenge, and we will face the dilemma to challenge what we see around us, what we hear, and what we say or to just say nothing, and deny Jesus.

Peter’s denial isn’t the only point of this story. . The reason that The gospel writer John could show us Peter like this, show us who Peter was in that moment denying Jesus, not once, not twice, but three times. The reason John can tell us like it is isn’t because Peter somehow grows a backbone and at some point becomes a hero of the faith. The story is really about Jesus.

You see, while Peter is outside denying Jesus, Jesus is inside and he’s not denying anything or anybody. We don’t hear him call out to Peter, hey bud I got this. But that’s what’s happening. Jesus knows us. I mean really Jesus knows what’s going on. I’m sure when he responds to Annas by suggesting they listen to the words of his followers, the ones who have deserted and are in the midst of denying him, Jesus knows what’s going on. He knows our strengths, our good deeds, our good thoughts, and more importantly he knows our weaknesses, he knows our fears, knows our limits. And he says to us. I got this, because I got you. I will not abandon you; i will not run away, or turn from you. I am with you to the end, whatever end that may be. I will not deny you. That is the faith that allows us to be honest. You know in that confession we said a bit ago. Faith in the Jesus who will not deny us allows us to really say confess those things, allows us to be truthful to ourselves with one another. And so importantly, as Peter will find out faith in the love and forgiveness of Jesus gives us the opportunity, the resposinsibility, and the strength to do more than just click a thumbs up. Because even when Jesus is tortured by and suffers a state sanctioned execution, Jesus does not deny, but forgives. That is the one we follow. Faith in the Jesus who will not deny us gives us the strength to speak, the strength to act, the strength to be a disciple to face injustice wherever and whenever. It may, it probably will cost us something, but remember Jesus says , hey I got this. I got you. Amen.

Lazarus stinketh – Sermon for March 9, John 11.1-44

Lazarus stinketh.  He stinketh.  FOOTNOTE: credit goes to Gal Pal Blogger kathrynzj for sharing the “stinketh”, KJV

He stinketh . I do not usually use the King James version of the Bible, but in this case I’ll make an exception. He stinketh are Martha’s words from that old translation and that, “he stinketh”, have kind of stucketh with me.

It is easy to laugh at the words, but our humor hides or disguises the seriousness and the pain of this scene/story.

Lazarus stinketh, he stinks because he is dead; and unlike that man who revived at the morgue in his body bag, lazarus has been dead and in his tomb four days. The mourners from their town of Bethany know that he stinketh, Mary and her sister Martha know this, and Martha wants to make sure Jesus knows this too. Lazarus stinketh because he is beyond healing, beyond hope.

Now maybe if Jesus had made it to their home earlier, perhaps if he had not dillydallied in Jerusalem. If only he had acted as soon as he got the word that Lazarus, that Mary and Martha needed him. If only. How many times do we say those words, “if only”? How many times may even be afraid to say it? But not Mary and Martha–both sisters voice their loss, their frustration, their anger, their pain to Jesus. I am so glad they say those words, “if only” and that Jesus listens to them. He doesn’t rebuke them. It makes our if only’s ok. If only we had gone to the doctor/the hospital sooner, if only we hadn’t been on the cell phone, if only we had said “i love you, i forgive you,” that last time, if only the driver hadn’t been drinking or had been paying attention. If only you God, if only you had answered our prayers, done what we wanted, stopped that bullet, cured that cancer, healed that addiction. If only. Two words that speak volumes about how not just death stinketh, but sometimes life stinketh too.

Sometimes life is so rotten that even the son of God is not unaffected, but just has to let the tears roll down his cheeks. I don’t know about you, but for me there is great comfort in that Jesus–in the Jesus who knows so deep down in his heart what it is to love and loose. That does not let divinity, does not let propriety, does not let what some people think may be good and proper control him. Instead we read, we hear, we sing –Jesus wept.

Those two little words in English, three in the Greek it was originally written in, tell us volumes. They tell us that not only does life stinketh sometimes, but that faith isn’t afraid to go to even the smelliest and messiest places. Being faithful to God is being faithful to our ties to one another. Being faithful to God isn’t about looking good and having it all together. Church, we are not here to put on a performance; we are here meet the one who huffs, who needs some puffs, and will break open the doors of death.

That’s what Jesus does. He calls out, with perhaps tears still flowing over his dust covered skin, “Lazarus come out”.

That’s the thing about God’s Word, it can penetrate to the deepest pit of despair and death. It can move through mountains of struggles, and vibrate through piles of pains. And, it doesn’t stop till it is heard. Lazarus come out.

And he did. Lazarus gulped in some stanky, clammy, stale air, but air nonetheless. The breath of life filled his lungs again, pumped his heart, and moved his muscles. In the dark, all wrapped up like a mummy he got up, and got going.
But, Lazarus come out. Wasn’t Jesus’ last word. Nope. Jesus could put the air back into his stiff and stinky body, but he needed the people to pull the wrappings away. They couldn’t just stand their like a bunch of spectators watching and waiting till Lazarus had gotten himself all cleaned up, got some soap, and some deoderant, made himself respectable. No, Lazarus stinketh and Jesus said get over there to that man and touch him not with a ten foot pole, but with your hands, bring him and welcome him back to the land of the living.

There’s a lot of talk about what a church should be doing these days. We know that the world has changed, the world is changing. It’s not the same out there as it was years and years ago. Its not the same in here. The people out there, the people in here, are not the same. A lot of people are really hurting, a lot of people are walking around like the walking dead, death has a hold on this world, and man it stinketh. So what is Jesus telling us to do, come in here and hide, and pretend, pray, make ourselves feel a bit better. No Jesus says to us, come out, it will get messy, maybe even stinketh some. But, Jesus says to us get out there, get over there, weep with those in pain, touch those who are untouchable, loosen the binds, loosen up, and you know what, death is the one who will loose. Death will fall away like the shreds of the shroud that bound Lazarus.

Because unlike the reinvigorated dead that fill our imaginations, our bookshelves, our tvs and movies, of this or that zombie apocalypse, Lazarus doesn’t come out of the tomb hungry for brains, but hungry for life.

And as at least one character wisely has said on some show or another, “Coming back from the dead changes people.” And we the church of Jesus who raised Lazarus, who was raised from death, and promises to raise us too, maybe not just on the last day, but every day. . And although we won’t hear the words till next week we can now say with Martha and Mary, the sisters of the man who stinketh, the ones whose love was returned to them, when lazarus was raised, we can say thank you, thank you, thank you Jesus. Amen,

I am the (broken) gate – sermon for Ash Wednesday 2014

broken gate

broken gate

John 10.1-18
1 “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
7 So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good “shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

this is roughly the sermon I preached last night

To fence or not to fence. Several years ago, that was the question asked as began creating the community garden over there on 26th St. next to the US Bank. Should we build some kind of fence around our garden? Should we construct some kind of defense and protection for all the hard work, the building of raised bed boxes, the planting, the watering, the growth of fragile and precious plants.
It is a natural question, fences and walls provide us with that sense of security and safety that we all long for.
Of course, no fence is truly impenetrable. We know that if someone wants to get over, under, or around a fence they sure can do that. We’ve seen that over and over again. Right here I’m holding a piece of the Berlin Wall, built to keep the East Berliners from escaping Communism . This was part of a wall of cement, rock, barb wire fencing, and guards, but still that wall came tumbling down.
Our world if full of attempts to surround ourselves with wood, stone, cement, and iron to try to keep us safe. Fences and walls in the Southwest between the US and Mexico, between Israel and the Palestinians, between neighbors, to keep the good in and the bad out.
At first glance this may seem like what Jesus is talking about in our passage tonight from John’s gospel. Tonight Jesus gives us two images to describe who he is. One is the good shepherd. It is a comforting and even somewhat familiar image, especially for us pretty regular church folk. We like the image of Jesus as the good shepherd staff in hand calling us to safety, calling us to follow, to go to the pasture that is God’s world and calling us to gather back to rest. But that’s not the only image Jesus gives us.
This night we heard these words from verses 9 & 10. Jesus says, “ I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
Jesus is the gate. Not such a pretty picture. That’s probably why we haven’t seen too many artistic renditions of those words. Of course, he is not talking about a literal wall—a literal fence. And unlike most of the walls and fences we may picture his is more agrarian. His imagery is that of a sheepfold, an enclosure built to protect sheep.
And, Jesus doesn’t say, “I am the fence. I am the wall.” Instead–the gate. The gate, the door—it is the opening, it is the way in and the way out. It is interesting Jesus doesn’t ever say, “I am the gate which is/will be shut and locked.” That is a gate that can give us all the security and safety, but that’s not what Jesus is about.
This night is Ash Wednesday, a day in the church that frankly is not terribly popular. I dare say we will never see the Christmas crowds fill the pews on Ash Wednesday. This day and its emphasis on our weakness, our fallenness, our brokenness, our human frailty is difficult. It is too difficult and painful for some. They would rather not face the reality of their mortality. Oh we know, up here in our heads that death is part of life. But when it comes to our own death or the death of those we love and cherish dearly. This is not something everyone wants to come face to face with, to have their noses rubbed in it, so to speak.
But that is exactly what we do this night. We rub ashes and dirt on our foreheads, on the outside to remember the dirt that is inside us, the anger the pain, the resentments, the fears, the sins, the prejudices, that we are sick, we will age, we will weaken, that we will not live forever, that we are broken.
I really believe that what is wrong with so much in this world is this denial. With all our diversions, our alcohol, drugs, gambling, violence are just different ways of building walls and fences to try to keep out this reality.
But Jesus is the gate. He is going to open a hole, a way in our defenses. The thing about Jesus isn’t that he is impervious and impenetrable. Jesus was not impervious to the brokenness of this world. The trust he had with his friends and family was broken as he was betrayed. The people who followed him broke away and bailed on him. His own body was bruised, his skin and flesh torn, bloodied, bruised, beaten he was broken. Jesus is broken, he is the broken gate for us, broken open. Broken open for all of us to come to, broken open for all of us to have life, life lived beyond scarcity, to have life lived abundantly beyond fear, beyond the safety of walls and fences. Jesus is the gate broken open for us. Amen.

Are you blind?? The signs are right there!!!!

Sermon March 2, 2014, John 9

The signs are right there. Right there for everyone to see. How can anyone miss them. They are black and white. Four, one on each corner. “No Turn on Red”. But more often than not drivers at the intersection of S. 27th St. and National Ave will if we’re lucky stop or slow down and then just turn right on red. Even though the signs say no. Even though there are pedestrians like me and my boys, or like Larry, or Sherveeta, or so many others whose names we don’t know trying to cross the streets. But the drivers go as if they can’t see, or can’t read, or don’t care what the signs say.

So what do you think? Why do they do that? Why do so many miss the signs.

Maybe the first time there at that intersection. Just with all the people, the business, the traffic, just to much.
Distracted
So much other going on the street
By what’s going on in the car, in our lives, in our head

We get focused on our wants, our needs to get where we’re going. We blind ourselves to others, to the signs.

That’s what Jesus is talking about this morning.

It begins with the disciples, who are distracted. They are trying to figure out who is to blame. They see the blind man and instead of seeing a brother, instead of seeing themselves in him, instead of finding out who he really is. They are looking for blame. Is he blind because it’s his fault or his parents’ fault. How is it God’s will.

But that’s not how Jesus sees it. Instead for Jesus the man’s life, his condition provides an opportunity to do God’s will, to do the good work, to show God’s power and healing in the world. So, Jesus takes that moment, that occasion and does what God would have him do–heal the man.

Now isn’t that a good thing?

Well, that’s not exactly how everybody sees it. You see, its not just that Jesus healed, its how he did it. Did anybody catch when Jesus does this healing?
It’s a Sabbath; the sabbath is the day of rest. A day for no work. But Jesus heals a man, a man who has lived sightless every other day. So this isn’t terribly urgent, there was nothing imminently dangerous about situation. We don’t even hear the man ask to be healed. But Jesus does it right then.
And, how does Jesus heal the man? If healing weren’t bad enough, Jesus makes some mud to do it. He doesn’t just say, “hey guy you are healed.” Like Jesus could have done and does in other places. No he does exactly what was posted, stated, as wrong breaking one of the commandments, and not just one of all the little ones. This is one of the big 10 right? Remember the sabbath.
It is no mystery that the religious leaders do not, they can not see what Jesus is really doing They can’t see Jesus for who he is, because well he’s doing what he’s not supposed to do. How can anyone be on God’s good side if they are going around blatantly breaking the commandments. Really it’s not just that they are distracted by jealousy. No, they are focused on what everything about their faith, their religion says is wrong and right.

However, the religious leaders lets not just pick on them. They aren’t the only ones blinded in the story. Before the man is questioned by the authorities, his neighbors, the people who walked by him, who saw him on the street, they have all sorts of questions. Some folks don’t even recognize the man. All they saw when they had looked at him for all those was his blindness, his disability, and without that they didn’t know who he was. So, for years and years the must have walked by him, they must have sat near him–passing by him on their way to market, on their way to do their business, on their way to worship, to greet their friends. Perhaps he even stood next to them at prayer, but the never took the time to get to know him. He was the blind guy in the corner, they never really saw him. Going about their lives, they were blind to him. So obviously their vision isn’t much better than that of their leaders.
How many times is our vision similarly clouded. We only see someone by the category we put them in. Old people or poor people, white people, black, lump all Asians together. Conservatives, liberals, the rich, gay or straight. We only see what we want to see. And with some we hardly take the time to stop and really look.
Today though Jesus is shining his light in here, so that yes, even we can start to see clearly. Now we’re not a big congregation right? 40 to 80 or so come to worship most Sundays. That’s not a lot right. Not too many. Now I’ve been open about the struggle I have recalling names when I want to. But im not the only one here. It’s as if we come here, but we really don’t see one another. Oh, we certainly focus on the people we like and who we are friends with. Now do not get me wrong. I’m not picking on anyone in particular, or just St. Paul’s. I’ve seen this in lots of other congregations. We don’t know what we don’t know. We are blind to our blindspots, that is until someone shines a light on them.
You know those signs at the intersection of 27th & National that I mentioned earlier in my sermon. Ignoring, not seeing those signs is such a big deal to me that when I am out walking, if I’m standing there trying to cross the street, well to the embarrassment of my sons, I will yell at drivers. I will wave my hands and i will point at the signs. Their blindness to the signs gets me all worked up.

I would like to think that I am righteous, somehow a better driver. But I have to admit, I can confess just the other week. I pulled into the far right lane, stopped at the red light, looked at the red light, looked to left, looked at the red light and pulled the wheel to the right and hit the gas. Luckily I caught myself before i hit a pedestrian trying to cross the street. My own impatience, thoughts, busyness distracted me, and blinded me to the signs I’ve pointed out to so many others, so many times. Well let me tell you I sure gave myself a good talkin too.

Friends if Jesus is the light of the world, then today he is shining. He is shining a spot light to show us where our blind-spots. He’s letting us see the things of this world as distractions, our busy-ness; our worries, our fears and resentments, the parties, the alcohol, its all the same, it blinds us. It is only when we admit our blindness can our eyes be opened, opened to Jesus God’s light .

But Jesus isn’t this holier than thou stop light. Making people think that’s all we as the church are or should be about. There to tell us what not to do. There to catch us in the act of doing wrong. Jesus is the light of eternal life. Of life lived beyond shoulda, coulda, wouldas, life not lived by don’t do this, don’t do that. But life lived really seeing one another. Life lived looking out for one another. Life lived looking for each and every opportunity to really see one another, to get to know one another, and to see how Jesus is reflected in their lives, in their struggles.

As we enter this season in the church a season of Lent. It has often been a season of sacrifice–of giving up something. In the church we give up the alleluia, that song and word of praise–not to make us feel bad, but to help us focus on Jesus, his life and his light. Let these days, these 40 days before the central festival and feast, the party of Easter be instead 40 days, of 40 opportunities to put away the distractions, to look for Jesus, to really see whats goin on in our lives, our prejudices, our weaknesses, to watch as Jesus opens our eyes to one another, to catch a glimpse of the glorious light that shines in our world to bring healing and living, forgiveness and peace, to bring us to life in God’s vision, giving us the eyes to really see the love and light of Jesus. Amen.

Bread of Life – Narrative Lectionary, Feb. 16th, 2014, John 6.35-59

If you build it, they will come.   That’s what they used to say, and I guess that’s what they thought and are hoping for Sochi, you know with the Olympics.  You could also   say if you feed ‘me, they will come.

 Of course, there’s nothing new about this.  This is not a modern reality.   Jesus had crowds following him.   Hungry people.  People hungry for healing, hungry for justice, hungry for meaning, hungry for hope, and hungry for bread. And Jesus fed them.  He met them where they were: at a well, on a mountain, where they worshiped, where they partied.  He gave them what they were looking. But even more.  He gave them even more than they bargained for.

That reminds me of something that happened to me years ago.  It was when Pr. Phetsamone, Inthaly and I traveled to Thailand and Laos.  I was with a couple of other people in the group, in Bangkok, we had been walking around and we saw that familiar sign, you know the Golden Arches of McDonalds.  Hungry for some American food, we thought we’d give it a try.  Oh there was the usual Mcdonalds food on the menu, but there were other foods as well, including a McChicken sandwhich, made with a chicken patty sandwhiched between two rice buns.  As many of us know rice is the staple in Asian diet, not  bread.  So I ordered and ate my chicken between two buns made of compressed rice, not wheat bread.

Now that’s not too far of a stretch.  It’s actually quite tame compared to where Jesus goes in our reading from John’s gospel.  This reading is the first of seven times that Jesus will say, “ego eimi”, not Lego my ego, but ego eimi “I am”. 

This first time, what does Jesus say he is?

 Bread.  Bread.  The stuff, at least in many places in the world, the stuff of life.  Bread.  In it’s many and various varieties it is the most basic food.  As we saw, I brought a bunch of different breads, but there are so many more.  Let’s try and list them together:

1.     Raised white bread

2.     Rye

3.     Wheat

4.     Sourdough

5.     Tortilla

6.     Banana bread

7.     Pumpkin bread

8.     Short breads

9.     Hawaiian

10.  Challah

11.  French

12.  Italian

13.  Baguette

14.  Bagel

15.  Naan

16.  Pita

17.  Lavash

18.  Vollkornbrot

19.  Buns

20.  Donuts

21.  Pancakes

 

Oh man, anybody else hungry?

It makes perfect sense that Jesus would say I am the bread of life.  It is so basic, so essential, everyone can relate to being hungry, of wanting, of the real physical reactions to our hunger.  When we are hungry, and I mean really hungry that need is so real, so all-consuming.

 It is no wonder then that the church has been in the business of feeding people.  And we are no different. We will eat.  We will eat together.  Later this morning at after worship fellowship, then downstairs in our fellowship hall, we will serve another staple, not bread but PHO, then later this week at Community night.  Do you see, have you picked up a pattern, in addition of course to food, you heard fellowship 2x and community once.  They both mean the same thing.  Togetherness.  But you know in my list, I overlooked something, something that what will happen in just a few minutes up here.  Communion/community.  It’s the same thing.  Being brought together to be fed or being fed to be brought together.

 Now Jesus didn’t just give bread to the people one time.  He took bread, gave thanks, and broke it with the people over and over again. And if Jesus would have just stuck with that simple recipe, well it might have been a bit easier.  But as we heard Jesus, he takes it perhaps a step too far.  Not only does he say he is the bread of life, but then he says his flesh is to be eaten as well.  In fact it’s not just eaten, but chewed on.

 Really Jesus, couldn’t we have stuck with the nice bread image?  We all pretty much can relate to that, but no,now you have us eating flesh, soon we’ll be drinking blood, and anyone in their right mind will run away screaming from us bunch of pseudo/potential zombies and vampires.

 Laugh, but that’s what it sounds like if you take Jesus at his word, literally.  And in this instance we kinda do.  Now here’s a bit of denominational difference,and identity talk.  We believe when we have communion, Jesus’ body is present and we are taking it in.  We are consuming it/him.  Yes it is still bread, but it’s also his presence. Now we don’t know, can’t exactly explain how this is all happening.  It’s one of those belief thingies, you know leap of faith thingies.

 And I really think that’s important, because if we spend time trying to figure it out, we’re going to miss the main dish, main point.  That is communion, the bringing together.  God in Christ is giving himself so utterly and so completely to us, not just in some intellectual exercise, not just to make us feel good, not just to fill our tummies, but to ease our hunger for forgiveness, for strength, for acceptance and hope. And for his life to be in, with, and through us.

 Every so often I like to share with you some words of Martin Luther, the German monk and reformer of the church, who our brand of church is named after.  Today I would like to share some words from a sermon he preached almost 500 years ago about communion.

        Now this is the fruit, that even as we have eaten and drunk the body and blood of Christ the Lord, we in turn permit ourselves to be eaten and drunk, and say the same words to our neighbor, Take, eat and drink; and this by no means in jest, but in all seriousness, meaning to offer yourself with all your life, even as Christ did with all that he had, in the sacramental words. As if to say, Here am I myself, given for you, and this treasure do I give to you; what I have you shall   have; when you are in want, then will I also be in want; here, take my  righteousness, life, and salvation, that neither sin, nor death, nor hell, nor any sorrow may overcome you; as long as I am righteous and alive, so long shall  you also be righteous and alive.

  These are the words he speaks to us; these we must take, and repeat them to our neighbor, not by the mouth alone, but by our actions, saying, Behold, my dear brother, I have received my Lord; he is mine, and I have more than enough and great abundance. Now you take what I have, it shall be yours, and I place it at your disposal. Is it necessary for me to die for you, I will even do that. The goal placed before us in the Lord’s Supper is that the attainment of such  conduct toward our neighbor may appear in us.

 Communion, community, fellowship, it is all one, just as all those different types of bread are bread, just as we all need a staple, a food, we all need to be fed.  Jesus feeds us, with his body and with the body of our neighbor. There is no communion by yourself.  It is never just about you and Jesus.  We don’t have a personal relationship with a savior.  We are all saved together. We are not just about dough, but about do.   This is the eternal life that we have right now, to be filled not just with calories and carbs but with compassion and care–to not just live to eat, but to eat to live.  Being brought together to be fed and being fed to be brought together. Yes, if we are fed, if we feed we will come.  Amen.

“I see paradise trees”.

I see paradise trees.  That’s what Micah said to me as we stepped out the doors of the Orlando, airport in Florida.

“Paradise trees?  What are those”? I asked him,   And he pointed to the big palm trees across the street.  “Oh  I see them now (I told him) Thanks for showing them to me.

It would make sense that he would see those palm trees and rename them, “paradise trees”.  After all, those trees don’t grow up here in the frigid semi arctic of Wisconsin.  And isn’t the typical picture of paradise white sandy beaches, crystal clear blue water and skies, maybe a puffy white cloud, and a palm tree–paradise tree–too. So for the rest of our vacation we saw paradise trees.  Of course we had seen them before, but then they were just leafy green palm trees.  It took a new vision to now notice and recognize them as paradise trees.

You know, I bet paradise trees are in the kingdom of God.  Now I’m not trying to describe heaven and add palm trees to images of the pearly gates, people floating decked out in white robes, wings, and golden harps.  Because that’s not the only thing Jesus is talking about in our story for this morning.  You see heaven and the Kingdom of God, well they not exactly the same thing.

Heaven, heading there, going there, that’s a done deal for those who believe.  As Jesus says, “those who believe are not condemned”.  That’s what Paul is telling us in his letter to the church in Rome, chapter 5.1:   Paul writes, “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God”.

Faith in the love of God in Christ, means we don’t have to even worry about heaven, getting there or going there.  That’s a done deal, done for us through the simply and only, or as we Lutherans like to say, solely through God’s amazing love.  That belief makes us confident and bold, it gives us comfort when things are going rough, when life gets really tough, like it does.  We know that this all here, well it’s not the end, we have something even bigger and better to look forward to.  That’s the hope that can get us though each day.  Heaven is where we are headed. No need to worry; end of story. 

Except it’s not the end, because there’s this whole kingdom of God stuff. The thing is Jesus isn’t done with us and the promise of heaven.  He doesn’t come to this world just to focus on the next, on what happens after this life, but to change us in this life, to change life right now, to change this world right now–to give us eternal life, and that eternal life is something that starts right now, as Jesus says we have it.  right now.  You see God isn’t just the God of heaven, but of of heaven and earth. Don’t we pray every Sunday, if not every day, thy or your kingdom come on earth as in heaven.

As Jesus says in his talk with Nicodemus, the Pharisee, this leader of the Jews, it’s all about seeing.  Seeing this kingdom, this God power, this rule and reign of God in this world right now.  As Jesus says, “no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” So, it takes  a whole new way to see, a new vision to recognize it, a whole new set of eyes that we get when we are reborn from above.

Here’s where we get the born again Christian, because the Greek word, anothen, can be translated as “again”, but in John it’s better translated as “from above”.  Almost the same thing, really. 

 The thing about this vision, though, is that it doesn’t come naturally.  It’s from above, from God.  It got it’s start in us when we are reborn in the waters of baptism,  but we need to practice seeing this way; we need to come again and again together so that others can point it out to us, we need our vision fixed again and again.  We baptize only once, but we come back repeatable,  to that new birth.  , practiced and formed and reformed, because it will be tested.  Evil wants us to close our eyes of faith, and just rely on the flesh as Jesus says.

 Here’s the thing, the eyes of faith look at the same world as the eyes of our flesh. And Let me tell you the flesh can have really good eyesight.  You can see real sharp with that 20/20 vision.  The flesh won’t miss a thing.  Seeing with the eyes of flesh will notice any imperfection, the flesh sees all the flaws, the flesh sees all the evil and wickedness of this world.  The eyes of the flesh see hypocrisy and violence.  Oh sure evil likes to hide; it likes to camouflage itself and pretend to be good, pretend to be harmless, but even the eyes of the flesh can see through that ruse.

 The difference between eyes of the flesh and eyes of kingdom/faith, is that where the flesh sees death, faith sees life, where flesh sees despair, faith sees hope.   With our new eyes, our new vision we see water turned into wine, we see healing from the touch of love, the kiss of forgiveness, we see Jesus calming the waves of water and waves of fear, the eyes of the kingdom see Jesus sitting with sinners around a table at a tax collectors home, and sitting with us sinners as we gather around this table today–young and old, rich and poor.  We see Jesus standing with us when we work and speak for justice and peace. 

 Just like I needed Micah to help me see the paradise trees, we need Jesus, we need God’s Word, we need one another to see paradise trees blanketed in snow, see paradise places where people are together, paradise people praising God, see us being paradise people being Jesus in our lives and in this God’s world.  With these eyes of faith we see a whole new world, God’s kingdom, paradise on earth as it is in heaven.  Amen.

Advent Devotion – Isaiah 57 – Road Construction

Isaiah 57:14-21

14It shall be said,

“Build up, build up, prepare the way,

remove every obstruction from my people’s way.”

15For thus says the high and lofty one

who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:

I dwell in the high and holy place,

and also with those who are contrite and humble in spirit,

to revive the spirit of the humble,

and to revive the heart of the contrite.

16For I will not continually accuse,

nor will I always be angry;

for then the spirits would grow faint before me,

even the souls that I have made.

I admit it, I like to drive.  When we are on vacation, I can just sit behind the wheel driving for hours, and there’s nothing like driving over a nice new smooth road.  As many of us well know, this past summer there was road construction all around St. Pauls.  It was pretty annoying.  I couldnt just cruise up and down 27th street.  I had to find all sorts of alternate routes. Some days I even rode my bike (which was a great gift). But now, the cones and barrels are all gone; the big trucks and other road repair machines are gone.  Theres nothing but a nicely widened smooth street.

Id like to think that God promises us a smooth ride.  But thats just not the case.  Obstructions, potholes, dead ends abound.  Sometimes they mysteriously show up, sometimes were given at least a signa warning.  Often these barriers and hindrances are of our own making.

While some blame everything on God, to me it seems like God is actually giving us an alternate route in life.  Instead of getting stuck in complaints and negativity, we can think about the pains and struggles in life as a form of road construction.  Sometimes we need to take a detour.  Smooth spots are the product of work, often hard work. We may not enjoy ourselves in the midst of these rough places, but God is right there with us.  With God’s help we can slow down, we can look more closely at ourselves and those around us.

So, next time you see those flashing lights, orange barrels and construction workers.  Say a prayer of thanksgiving and for safety for those hardworking and sometimes maligned men and women.  Then take a moment or two to look at your life, honor the bumps and potholes, give thanks for the smooth spots, look for Gods grace at work in your day.

Faith in Action.  This may not be terribly practical but it can be quite thoughtful.  Look around and see that person who is working, toiling, often thanklessly.  Write that person a thank you note and give it to him or her.  You dont need to sign you name; you could just write Your friend in Christ or “In Christian love”.

Prayer: God of rough places and smooth spaces, we give thanks for this life.  Help us to take every opportunity to be more loving to ourselves, others, and you.  Amen.

“What a Waste” — Sermon for December 15, 2013 – Narrative Lectionary, Isaiah 55.1-11

Leaving lights on and wasting energy, leaving the water running and wasting water, not finishing dinner and wasting food, people littering and treating our neighborhood like its waste, dillydallying when we need to be going somewhere or getting things done, in other words wasting time. These are just a few of my not-favorite things. These are my pet peeves. A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to list them. Looking at them, the thing that peeves me the most is wasting. I don’t like to waste things. But it seems, we live in a throw away world/culture. Appliances only last so long. We waste–time, energy, resources, people. Our culture treats al sort of things and even people as disposable.

This, however, according to the prophet Isaiah in our reading for today, is not the case with God.

We hear these words of the prophet Isaiah, words declared thousands of years ago, uttered hundreds of years before the coming of Jesus which is what we are preparing to celebrate in a short couple of weeks–Micah how many days did you tell me? 10?

The prophet speaks God’s words of invitation, come drink and be satisfied, be filled, come and feel what it is like to be filled with good things. Stop wasting yourselves on the things that do not last, be filled with the life that knows no end, that does not waste away.

The power of this invite is that it is not limited. It is not limited by number, only so many guests may attend, it is not limited by ability to pay, to reciprocate, to earn or deserve it, it is not limited by perceived worthiness. The invite goes out to all.

I am certain that there are those out there who would hear these words, hear what God is saying, inviting each and every one, inviting all and declare, “What a waste,”. Because not only do we waste our precious natural resources, we waste our people. Our culture/society has a way of wasting lives, of consigning people to disposable status. We look around at others and even at ourselves, we see what people do, the crimes that are committed, the abuses that are perpetrated, and it is tempting and easy to just want to throw away the key, so to speak.

Christmas, the coming of Jesus which we are preparing ourselves for, Christmas is not only in the stores but in the news. The war on Christmas isn’t about manger scenes and holiday advertisements. The true war on Christmas is being waged by people who throw others away, who believe that love, forgiveness, generosity, compassion is a waste. Often we see our differences: political, cultural, and ethnic, and experiential and determine well, that person is just not not able, not worthy, of our investment of time and energy. We toss the. In the discard pile.

But God’s call, God’s invitation, God’s love goes to wealthy and the wicked too–whether we deserve it, or not, whether they accept it or not. It’s easy for us to say what a waste. We should conserve our resources, make sure that the good people get what they want out of this life–even in the church.

But God sees it another way. As the prophet puts it well, “
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Where we see waste, God sees opportunity, where we see waste God sees a beloved child. God’s word is wasted on no one.

God invites us to trust, to trust that where we may see waste God sees something different, potential, opportunity,, maybe but definitely a child of infinite worth. God’s love is more powerful than we can ever imagine, that God’s love can do the unimaginable, it can change the human heart.

The examples are all around– from an Isreali mother Robi Demelin whose son was killed by a Palestinian to a Palestinian Ali Abu Awwad, who have claimed each other as family instead of enemy, who travel and speak about peace. Who were here in Milwuakee just over a year ago to talk about their work in Israel and Palesting.

Another, all to timely example is of Scarlet Lewis and her son JT, who just one year ago their Jesse was shot and killed in the Sandyhook massacre. This mother and son, instead of turning inward and bitter, instead of turning to violence, turned to others. JT connected with survivors of the genocide in Sudan in Africa. He has raised money to send a girl their to school. They have done this because they have consciously made the decision to forgive. To forgive the man who terrorized and shot their son, their little brother. These people and so many, many more answer the Divine invitation to life.

Their life, their energy, is not wasted in enmity and vengeance. They choose to give of themselves. Because God’s word, in whatever form it comes to this world is ultimately not wasted.

It is not wasted on us, even here. God is calling us to a new life, a life of trust, a way that looks around at those all around us, that looks within us, and doesn’t write anybody off. Nothing we do, say, give, in God’s name, as disciples of Jesus is a waste, The church, here, us, we are people who have taken drugs, we are people who’ve walked the streets, we are people who have committed crimes, we are people who have been so angry and disappointed, and hurt and yet we hear God’s Word: are people who are answering God’s gracious invitation.

“Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.”

“Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
3 Incline your ear, and come to me;
listen, so that you may live.” To you, to me, to all.Thus says The Lord, amen.

Advent E Devotion II – Stubborn

Ezekiel 2
4He said to me: Mortal, go to the house of Israel and speak my very words to them. 5For you are not sent to a people of obscure speech and difficult language, but to the house of Israel— 6not to many peoples of obscure speech and difficult language, whose words you cannot understand. Surely, if I sent you to them, they would listen to you. 7But the house of Israel will not listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me; because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart. 8See, I have made your face hard against their faces, and your forehead hard against their foreheads. 9Like the hardest stone, harder than flint, I have made your forehead; do not fear them or be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. 10He said to me: Mortal, all my words that I shall speak to you receive in your heart and hear with your ears; 11then go to the exiles, to your people, and speak to them. Say to them, “Thus says the Lord God”; whether they hear or refuse to hear.

I wouldn’t have thought that stubbornness would be a spiritual attitude. As Christmas approaches we all can probably picture a child in some store stomping his or her feet, pitching a fit, and throwing a tantrum. Face it we’ve either suffered through this as a parent or grandparent or witnessed another adult deal with a stubborn child. Being stubborn just seems so contrary to what we think of as “Christian nice”. However, in some instances being stubborn is evidently a spiritual strength. And that is because unlike a child (or even an occasional adult) God isn’t whining about some toy, desert, or petty preference.

God has an important and life changing word for us. And that’s the problem. Often we don’t want to hear that word. We don’t want to be told to stop; we don’t want to be told to change. We think the way we are doing and being is good enough. The problem is good enough isn’t Godly enough. Our divisions do not please God. It does not make God smile to see so many hungry children and families, to hear the sound of weapons of war, to have her creation used and abused. I could go on and on, because that’s what God chooses to do. Since before the prophet Ezekiel, till now, and till whenever, God is going to go on and on. And when we stop and think and pray about it we can give thanks for Godly stubbornness. We give thanks that God is in this match of wills with us because God:
WILL NOT back down
WILL NOT give in
WILL NOT abandon
WILL NOT leave
WILL NOT forsake
WILL NOT give up on us!

Faith action: During these days of list making, sit down and make a “God List”. What is important to God? How does it compare with what our world says is important? Carry that list with you as you shop, as you go to work, as you go about your days.

Prayer – God of Holy stubbornness, help us to discern what is worthy of such a strong stance. Help us to pray, speak, and work for your peace and justice in this world. Help us to welcome your stubborn expectations, your stubborn forgiveness, and your stubborn love for all. Amen.

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