Revdonna's Blog

Turning the world upside down. Acts 17.6

Our Anthem – Sermon on Luke 1.46b-55

Here it basically is:

Played Mission impossible theme

That music, it’s the theme to what show, movies?
Mission Impossible.
It was also the music played at the start of the marathon I ran in Greece last month.
Mission Impossible? Really?
What a buzzkill. Is it really all that inspiring and motivating? It’s not what I was expecting to hear. I had been looking forward to hearing the Greek National Anthem. I’m pretty sure that “dnn’t, dnnt, dunt dunt dunt’” is not it.

Later while running down the road, I mentioned to another runner how I was surprised that they did not play the Greek National anthem. The other marathons I’ve done here in The States all began with the Star Spangled Banner. The response I remember hearing from that person is, “ well this isn’t the USA”.

No it wasn’t. Obviously I was in a different country—with different language, customs, food, and music. I wanted to hear Greece’s anthem, not one of Hollywood . Aren’t national anthems supposed to be special. Aren’t they supposed to inspire feelings of national pride? I wanted to hear music that captures and communicates the spirit of the people of the country. The music of the Greek people.

Like today. Like what we heard today in worship. It could be said that today we have heard the songs of God’s people.
The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;

Word’s from the prophet Isaiah, and then words owned and claimed by Jesus as he began, kicked-off not a marathon, but his ministry.
And then we heard from Jesus’ Mother, the song of Mary, also known as the Magnificat. You know it’s not too much of a stretch to call these our anthems. These words declare what God does, what God does for and with God’s people. But first they are Mary’s words.
Mary is a young woman, not much more than a girl, with her whole life ahead of her. It was a life that would have been typical, a life of marriage, children, cooking, cleaning, caring for her family. Promised, in what could have been an arranged marriage, to a man named Joseph. But still just a normal girl, not a queen, not a princes, nobody special.
And one day, the Lord God’s own messenger comes, with a life changing, life rattling, life upending word. Through her, God would birth the savior of her people, the savior of humanity, the savior of the world. I don’t know about you but my mind would be blown. If that were me, I’d have a whole new bunch of reasons to question my own sanity.
This new reality will not only stretch her belly, but her faith, her relationship with God and all those around her. Who would believe her? Who would listen to her? Young and pregnant before her wedding –to her family, neighbors, friends she’s just another girl who got as some say “knocked up”, got into trouble, just another single mom. From Matthew’s story we learn that Even Joseph her soon to be husband was planning to quietly divorce her. Surrounded by whispers, shame, heartache and pain.
It is no wonder, Mary goes to see her cousin Elizabeth, she doesn’t just post this on facebook; Mary’s getting out of town, and it is to Elizabeth that Mary sings these words we heard today. Given her situation, given what’s happened in her life– improbable and impossible words, My soul proclaims the greatness | of the Lord,
47my spirit rejoices in | God my Savior,
48for you, Lord, have looked with favor on your | lowly servant
From this day all generations will | call me blessed;
49you, the Almighty, have done great | things for me,
and holy | is your name.

Elizabeth listens, Elizabeth hears the song and really hears the singer. Now why would she do that? It is because Elizabeth knows the power of God doesn’t fit within the, does not fit within our lines we draw about what is right, what is proper. Because Elizabeth is expecting—a miracle– a child as well. She believes that God’s blessings are not what the world, culture, even our laws allow. She is expecting God.
Elizabeth will give birth to that voice in the wilderness, to John, the voice of repentance.
50You have mercy on | those who fear you,
from generation to | generation. R
51You have shown strength | with your arm;
and scattered the proud in | their conceit,
52casting down the mighty | from their thrones
and lifting | up the lowly.

From just a whisper in Mary’s heart, to a duet with old Elizabeth, to the song of God’s people. These words….are not just Mary’s, they come from the stories of the Bible, of women and men, ordinary, regular, lowly people lifted up, rescued, redeemed and realigned.
3You have filled the hungry | with good things,
and sent the rich | away empty.
54You have come to the aid of your | servant Israel,
to remember the prom- | ise of mercy,

Within Mary’s song we hear the cries of slaves in Egypt, the shouts as they are liberated. We hear the laws that institutionalize care for the poor—for example Leviticus 19: 9When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God. Over and over again the lives and words of the prophets call the people, the leaders, the rich to turn from injustice, to not sell the poor, to not cheat, but to provide for the widow, the orphan, the alien/the stranger. For hundreds and hundreds of years, from one grandfather to another, this is the God that has been handed down.
he promise made | to our forebears,
to Abraham and his chil- | dren forever.

Handed down to us, as this song becomes not just Mary’s, not just Mary and Elizabeth, but all. We add our voices to it we are the children God promises—these words lift up our spirits, filling those who are emptied by the sin of this world to be filled with hope, the hope of God’s promise to re-order our world away from the powerful and privileged, away from gold, guns, and guile. This is our song as we though a small people struggle to voice the presence God here where so many, where our culture, our society does not expect it. listen to the voices of protestors.  Our own struggle, and in a place where too many have been just ignored and turned away, judged to be not good enough. Here we add our voice to that of our neighbors who can’t sing the siren song of financial security and suburban safety and white standards. We sing God’s anthem as we could and should very well call this our anthem. Perhaps these words should go with us, not recycled in a basket in the back, but folded up, rolled up put in your purse or pocket. Ready to pulled out when someone thinks the Bible is about blessings of business wealth, success, and military might. Instead of corporate jingles and jingoistic anthems this is our song. It is not shame and pain; it is not despair and death; it is not weakness and resignation.

We will listen to Mary and the Mary’s of today, with the cries of anger, screams of pain and despair. No longer will the noise of things like Fox news, of mean spirited politicians, the bangs of guns, the marching boots of warriors, of anger and resentment, of racism and fear. We will not let those sounds drown out this song, Mary’s song because it is our anthem. In it we have hope.
It may feel like an impossible task, but it is our mission to add voices to those who are not heard, because God is here. And as we listen, and as we read and sing, and pray, we trust that God is lifting up the lowly, lifting us up and our souls will, our souls do proclaim the greatness | of the Lord, our spirits will from now on rejoice in | God our Savior. Amen.

Ready – Advent photo devotion

IMG_0492

Ready
Boots, bags, and books
Teeth and hair brushed
Breakfasted and rested
Ready

Prayer
O Lord, am I ready? Am I ready to welcome you into my heart and life? Am I ready to follow? What do I need to do? Do I have what’s required? I have been told you don’t call the qualified but qualify the called. Help me to feel your love. Help me to be surrounded in it, to wear it, to live on it and I will be ready. Amen.

Time – Advent, picture a day devotion

time

Time
Waiting, watching, yearning
cold and wasted
Time spent

Prayer: God of eons and seconds, give me a sense of time as a gift. In every moment, help me to find my strength in you. Give me patience and endurance to live your love today. Amen.

“When it rains it pours” – beyond the Morton Salt trademarked slogan

member and her flooded car

member and her flooded car

When it rains, it pours.

That’s a pretty common saying right? If someone were new to this country, or you know just little and isn’t familiar, with all the subtleties and oddities of our language, how would you explain it, because literally not all rain is a downpour.

So it means, usually when one bad thing happens, you can expect a bunch more bad things to come your way. Kind of like a flood of bad luck. Right?

Kind of like our world today. I was listening to an interview with a representative of Unicef (United Nations Children’s Fund) speaking about their work, she (the rep) mentioned that they have never had so many serious crises not just in countries but in regions all around the world. But it wasn’t just her words that struck me, it was the frustration, the pain, the sadness in her voice, that in the Ukraine, Gaza, that in Central America, countries in Africa children are dying because, not natural disasters, but our own manmade decisions to kill–conflict, wars.

When it rains it pours. There is Ebola spreading in West Africa. Families in El Salvador and other Central American countries fearing for their children’s lives, sending them thousands of miles to seek safety in this country.

Some politicians still refusing to act or even accept the science that climate chaos is real. We have too many politicians who are feeding hate and bigotry who seem only to want to cater to the super rich.

When it rains it pours thousands of children die in this country by guns they find in their homes, their neighbors’ homes, by guns shot in neighborhoods, in parks, in their homes.

When it rains it pours, people are sick and struggling. There aren’t enough jobs in town here, there’s hardly regional transportation to get to the jobs, to lesson the deep pockets of poverty.

Maybe its just me, but I feel like at my wits end.

Probably how Jesus was feeling at the beginning of the story from our Gospel. Jesus had been teaching the crowds, and then he had to explain himself, explain the parables to his closest followers, the disciples. He has gone back home to Nazareth, where his old friends, neighbors, and even family reject him. Jesus has heard that John the Baptist was executed after a big banquet King Herod had thrown.

It is no wonder, Jesus wanted to get away–tried to leave the crowds behind–even if just for a moment. But they would not, they would not go away, the sick, the struggling they were not going to be ignored or abandoned. They know a good thing when they see it. They follow him, and that’s a real testament to their tenacity or of course their desperation. They follow.

Jesus sees them. He sees their need. He knows and touches their pain. He heals them, but the day gets long, and there are too many, and they are out, out of town. They are hungry. The disciples want to send the people away.

I’m sure looking at the flood of needy and hungry, the disciples might have agreed, when it rains, it pours.

By any chance does anyone know what else that phrase means?

Morton Salt. You might ask what does rain have to do with salt? It was a slogan used by, and actually now trademarked by the Morton Salt Company. It goes back a long way. You see, salt tends to get clumpy when it gets too humid, the sodium chloride attracts water molecules. Well somewhere along the line the Morton company figured out that if they add another chemical, the salt wouldn’t clump, and that even when it rained, it (meaning the salt poured).

So, it’s also/ actually a positive slogan.

Getting back to Jesus is surrounded out there in that wilderness, surrounded by a sea of sick, and probably really, really hungry people, not the I missed my 2pm frappachino and cookie crowd, but the lucky if we eat three times or even twice a day people, 5000 men, and of course, women, and children.

Jesus doesn’t give into the temptation to just send them away, he doesn’t chastise, he doesn’t yell at them for not thinking and planning ahead. No, out of his care and his love, he tells the disciples to feed the hungry, to as The prophet Isaiah, feed them all. Each and every one. So Jesus takes what they had blesses breaks it, and the food multiplies, there is an abundance, there is enough for all and some left over. When it rained need, when it rained struggle and pain. God uses the disciples, uses the church to pour out God’s abundance.

So much, so many have focused on this the multiplying of the loaves as the miracle–either through divine intervention or the power of the human heart to be generous. But, as at least one other preacher points out. The miracle isn’t the amount of food. The miracle is that God in Jesus actually cares. Because this isn’t the first time, this isn’t the last time. We are always in need. We are always sick, struggling, sinning, and stumbling, saying mean stuff like the disciples, like send them away, there won’t be enough..

That’s what we hear still today. That When it rains troubles. God doesn’t turn away. God doesn’t just lean in. But God sends us jumping in to pour out the abundance, that is God’s kingdom, that is God’s will for this world, not just for a few, not just for one people, one country, but for all.

When it rains it pours, some of you know our member Lara. You might have even seen her on the news on Friday. She works down by the airport, she is a hairstylist, raising her four kids as a single mom, as a hairstylist. You know that storm that blew through on Friday? Well the parking lot at her work flooded. It flooded her car. That’s why that pictures in our video for today.

You see her, sitting on the hood of her car smiling. Not because everything always goes easy for her, not even because she always has a sunny chipper attitude. It something else. It’s something deeper, and stronger. She believes that when it rains, it pours– that after pushing the car out of the flood waters, people have been helping her to dry it out, taking turns with the shop vac, dropping off gifts and donations. When it rains, God sends us to share what we have and really that’s God’s abundance.

So when you hear the next terrible tragedy, don’t just wonder what would Jesus do? Pray, ask, act what would Jesus want you to do. Because the good news for us today, this day and everyday. Is that God is today. Because when it rains, it pours– God’s overflowing with is grace full of compassion, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. God cares. God still cares. So Jesus says to his disciples, says to give to us, all who are hungry, all who are thirsty, all who are weak and struggling, come, come, and together we will be fed, we will feed one another, we will love and welcome, we will really have communion together. Come together. Amen.

Freedom and the true world cup

Now that the smoke of fireworks has faded, the bottles have been picked up, the parades and past, i wonder how many people really know what we have been celebrating this 4th of July. Oh sure, most can probably tell you it is Independence Day. That we are celebrating freedom. But do they know what freedom really is?

Because 238 years ago, in 1776 when the founding fathers signed that document, the Declaration of Independence, when they signed their names beneath words like, “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.” That the men who signed their names meant only certain men were equal, that some men could be sold as slaves and property, and that equality with and for women wasn’t even on their radar which hadn’t been invented yet.

So the freedom that we celebrate on the 4th of July with parades, picnics, fireworks, and music, wasn’t finished on that day, the 4th of July, 1776. No one would argue that that was a beginning for us; it wasn’t the end, and there is still work to be done for this nation to truly flourish with freedom of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all. So do those who party, who adorn themselves with red white and blue, know that they are not celebrating an event, once and done, but a process, the freeing of the people to make this nation.

Now perhaps with all that in mind, the Apostle Paul’s words may make more sense. Not that he was completely impossible to understand. I think any of us who’ve done any sort of self reflecting, any sort of self-examination and realisation, would be pretty familiar with Paul sense of the struggle going on within him.

It’s like I’ve and others have often said. There’s no need to look outside ourselves, to demons and the devil. Our own nature, our own genetics, our own upbringing, personality, is the source of our sin. I bet I’m not the only one who has given in, who has been tempted to say, “the devil made me do ot, and know the only devil around was my own weakness, my own anger, my own stubbornness, my own hunger, and weakness for gambling.

For Paul, the laws of God were helpful and good,because without them, he wouldn’t know the depths, the dangers, the complexity, and of his sin. For Paul, he feels the very real pull within himself. Temptations come from within. He sees us as broken, trapped people. It isn’t just that we don’t know wrong from right, no God has given us commandments, the law, torah in Hebrew, but, we just don’t, won’t sometimes can’t follow and live according to the laws of God.

And because of that we are not free, we can’t free ourselves. For jesus and Paul, the answer to what is wrong with us, what is wrong with this world is not independence. There is no pulling oneself up by the bootstraps out of sin.

We are not free, until someone else does it for us. And that someone is Jesus. With Jesus, sin doesn’t have power over us. Oh yeah, Paul, you, and me, we’ll still mess up. We will still commit sins, we will drink, we will say things in anger, we will hurt ourselves and others, we still live in a society that is built upon sin, upon some people being worked to death so we can have cheap stuff to fill our closets, to fill our garages, purses and pockets.

Freedom, true freedom, reveals the emptiness of all that stuff, of that life of drugs, drinking, of violence. Being freed in Christ is an everyday struggle to see ourselves, our world, and what we csn do in it.

Part of our July 4th celebrations is to drive down to Raymond, WI and help out my husband Brad’s church to represent it, walk, give out candy, and flyers in the little parade. We sometimes go to the festival. This year, as in the past, there were these carnival games for the kids, and the prizes were all sorts of trinkets, frisbees, footballs, temporary tattoos, and more. Of course, the irony that these, red, white, and blue, patriotic trinkets were produced, were made in far away countries like China was not missed. That the games were mostly just of luck.

Now just imagine if we couldn’t or would’t have seen all that for what it really was. We could have spent our time, our energy, our lives trying to win for ourselves these “prizes”. That is the true freedom that Jesus the Christ gives us. No longer are we spending our time, our energy, our resources, on empty prizes.

So we hear Jesus’ call, w hear his words, come to him, come together, to have our burdens lifted, because they are not ours alone. in Jesus we do not face, Paul does not face his weakness by himself, we are yoked together, bound to one another, we are freed now not to struggle for empty prizes and empty pleasures, but to spend our life in the biggest contest of all, bringing peace, living in forgiveness, and sharing God’s love. We may not have fireworks, we may not have the fanciest and loudest, most entertaining parades and shows. But we have something better, more powerful, more meaningful. Today God gives you, in Communion, not a party of independence, but a taste of true freedom, today God shares with youm with all of us, the real world cup! This is why we are here, to share the true world cup. Amen.

“Would you rather” – Sermon for June 22nd, 2014 – Matthew 10:24–39

(I began by going to one of the little kids and asking if he wanted to play a game with me, and if he knew the game “Would you rather?”)

Would you rather? Would you rather eat ice cream or pudding? Would you rather play in the rain or when it’s hot? Would you rather is a game my sons play. But it doesn’t stay so easy, so benign. Eventually we get to icky things like, Would you rather have a leach or a spider on you? And sometimes the question, would you rather can make you really think.

It’s a fun game to play when you’re bored, but it’s still a game nonetheless. The difference between the game and real life, is that the choices we make in life are not pretend and imaginary. And while our options may be between or among several seemingly equal and not so good things, the choices we make in life are real.

Now, here’s my good Lutheran preacher, disclaimer. You don’t hear me talking a lot about choice. As a Lutheran we can’t even make the choice to believe in God. That even faith is a gift, a work of the Holy Spirit and not us. As Martin Luther wrote in his Small Catechism almost 500 years ago: from his explanation to the third article of the Apostles Creed “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith…”

In other words God chooses us first, before we ever think about believing or choosing to have faith in God. God loves each one of us, makes that choice for us. But that doesn’t mean we don’t make any choices. We choose how we are going to live out that faith. We make choices about how we are going to follow Jesus, everyday.

It would be so cool if those choices we simple and straight forward as those would you rather questions.

But its not as easy, and don’t let anyone tell you it is. If it were easy, choosing between what is obviously good and what is obviously evil and bad, why would Jesus talk about bringing a sword, dividing families, about carrying a cross. All of those things come out of the choices our faith calls us to make.

Our would you rather’s are more complicated, more serious, more consequential. Would you rather: If your neighborhood community were plagued with drugs, gangs, and guns would you rather stay and try to heal your community? Or would you rather move your children to safety? Even if it meant entering a country illegally? And as a follower of Jesus what do you do when your brothers and sisters make those choices.

Would you rather, do the work, pay the price to change how we live, so that we slow climate change now, or later? How does being a believer in Jesus fit in.

Would you rather have more guns or less guns, in our violent world, a world of drugs, and anger, of irrational hate within our families, neighborhoods, with terrorists and troubled individuals. And most importantly, what role does faith in the God of Jesus play in your answer.

(Would you rather have companies pay people enough to support with jobs, with jobs in our neighborhoods, with reliable and timely transportation to jobs, or would you rather have corporations make record profits and get thwt investment income.

And the most important question, will your faith in Jesus lead you to speak like the prophet Jeremiah, act, vote, change where you shop and how you live. Will you pay the price to follow Jesus?

Because contrary to popular thinking these days the blessings of God are not wealth, not a big house in the suburbs, not success, not easy going, smooth sailing, not comfort and serenity and security.

Though life is not a game, we are faced with would you rather. With choices–choices that don’t change our salvation, but do change our lives, the lives of our world. So, would you rather face life as a follower of Jesus, a life of meaning and purpose, that rises above the simple search for empty pleasures. Wouldn’t you rather have a life with Jesus. One that faces down the evils of life, that doesn’t just go along with the evils of this world, but joins with your brothers and sisters of the faith to create the family of God. Wouldn’t you rather give up the false securities of this world for the promise of a truly better one, God’s kingdom come for real. Wouldn’t you rather act with courage and not fear.

PreacherWilliam Sloane Coffin gave a blessing and I’ll end my time with you : “The Lord bless you and keep you, and the Lord’s face shine upon you and grant you grace; grace to risk something big for something good.”

Acts 9:1-19

This sermon began with a testimony given by a member of the church. She spoke about Jesus having the power to turn her life around.

Jesus can do that. Jesus can turn our lives around. He can change us, turn us from walking down the way of destruction, paths paved by death.

Jesus can change us; Jesus can turn our lives around even when we don’t know want or don’t even know we need to get turned around. That was the way it was with Saul.

Saul didn’t know he was on the wrong road. He thought that the right path was to follow the commandments of the bible, the laws and rules of God’s religion was the right and the only way. He thought the followers of Jesus were a threat to his faith. He believed that by hunting down these followers of Jesus, that he Saul was walking in the way of the Lord, doing God’s will. He didn’t ask God to turn him around, but to simply point him in the right direction and let him go on his mission of holy righteousness.

I can’t imagine what might have been going through his head and his heart that day on the rowd to Damascus when Jesus spun Saul right round, like a record, throwing him off his horse, causing not just his body to come crashing down, but his entire life and world. We can not say it too much. Saul’s life revolved around following God’s laws and commandments from the bible, from Deuteronomy, from Leviticus and more. It was through following those laws he came to know God, and now Jesus with that blinding light, knocking Saul off that horse, knocked him down, knocked down his faith, knocked down and turned his world around.

Jesus has a way of doing that, whether we are looking to be turned around or not. Whether it’s the rule of law or just the way we see things, Jesus is bound to mess with us. That’s what he did with Ananias. Ananias is a good man, he already believes in Jesus; he’s on the right path. Jesus wants Ananias to do more than talk, pray, and worship. Jesus wants him to take the risk to walk the walk. Ananias knows who this Saul is. Word has spread all the way to Damascus, probably to any place where the Good News of Jesus was preached, the bad news of Saul arresting people had spread as well. So when the Lord comes to Ananias and tells him to go to Saul, it’s understandable that Ananias would question Jesus’ direction.
Wouldn’t you? I know I would! Hey Jesus you want me to do what? Hey Jesus, i don’t want to offend, but maybe way up wherever in the heavens you are, maybe you missed it, but this guy–he’s bad news; he dangerous; he’s evil. He’s the bad guy, and you want me, you want us to go to him? Are your sure Jesus? Are you sure you’ve thought this all the way through, Lord?
Anytime the good news challenges us. Anytime the gospel of love and forgiveness pulls us to turn around, points us in a new direction. We too like Ananias can wonder. The church is in that place now. We are in that place now. Our world is changing, and Jesus is calling us to turn around and to not run away from the world, but to turn into, to turn and lean into it.
I remember one of the first times riding a motorcycle. I was riding a nice Harley, riding behind someone I liked, someone I trusted. That it until we had to turn, and we started, in my estimation, in my mind, to go down towards the ground. Every fiber of my being did’t want to get any closer to that road, so i shifted my wait, and I leaned away. We made the turn, a wobbly turn, and that was the last time I rode behind my friend. That was the last time she let me on her bike.
You see, we don’t mind a little bit of change in our lives, Lord, you know a tweak here and there, a little bit of a change around the edges or at the corners of our lives. Jesus just let us alone and we’ll work it out–we’ll come to church every once in while. We’ll give just a bit, a bit of our money, a bit of our time, a bit of ourselves, just enough, you know to make us look good, feel good about ourselves. But Jesus don’t ask us to really turn it around, don’t ask us to change too much.
We get used to the roads we are used to traveling, they are familiar, if not comfortable at least predictable, even if they do as lead to death. We get comfortable walking down the wide boulevard of anger or the narrow path of judgement. We know our way around. We know who to avoid, who to trust, we know we can trust people just like us, to walk with us. We want to walk down the paths of who and what we like, the way we’ve gone before.
That might have seemed to have worked, back in the day. Everything is like that whether its drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, buying clothes or cars, or our attitudes, our judgements, our anger, our grief, and hurt. It feels good, even just at first, and we get stuck. But God is in the business of change, And just as Jesus turned Saul around, just as Jesus turned Ananias, Jesus turns us today. That’s what all this forgiveness is, it’s the opportunity, it is the break, it is the push and pull to turn us around. To turn us towards one another, to push us to lean into our world, lean into our neighborhood, because turning us inside out, turning upside down and all around is what Jesus did and what Jesus is still doing.

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,

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