Welcome to Thomas Church

Sermon, April 8, 2018

Tex: John 20

It’s time for a change. It’s time for a name change. People for 50 years we’ve called ourselves Village, but we are in a city, and over 30 years ago we moved away from the apartments of Juneau Village. So why in 2018 are we still Village people? I guess names tend to have a sticking power. But, it is time. So to save us energy discussing and debating our new name, I (as pastor acting like the leader I am) I have already picked our new name. Welcome to Thomas Church—the church for the Stunned, Stumped, Searchers, Seekers, and Skeptics. It’s a bit long, but it can roll off the tongue if you practice, especially the tagline: The church for the stunned, stumped, searches, seekers and skeptics.

You’ll notice that I did not include doubters in that list. It’s not that doubters are not welcome. In fact, I’m a pastor who is quite comfortable and familiar with doubt. It is instead, because it’s not just about time for name change for Village it’s also about time for Thomas. We should be done with “Doubting Thomas”. He’s done enough time with that title. For all these years, you would think that that’s all there is to this man.

In the three gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke Thomas’s name only appears in the list of the 12. But in John’s gospel, Thomas appears several times. He is the disciple who calls Jesus’ followers to go with Jesus to Bethany to see Mary and Martha, and to raise Lazarus from the dead—saying “Let us go with Jesus, that we can die with him.” And then just a few chapters later, as Judas goes to betray Jesus, and Jesus is with his disciples having washed their feet, and Jesus is giving his farewell address to the disciples, Jesus says

3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.

4And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

Instead of calling him, Thomas the encourager, Thomas, with the good questions, the church has focused on these words from our story today naming him and labeling him “Doubting Thomas”. And no one has wanted to be called a “Doubting Thomas”.

But it’s about time that we own up how we have seperated, how we have segregated, and denigrated doubt, we have questioned questions and questioners. The church has we have created some false dichotomy placing reason, logic, science, on the “bad” side and obediance, faith, hope, trust on the “good”. You either have one or the other, and it better not be doubts.

However, as followers of Jesus, I would think that the church of all people would appreciate the dangers of blindly and stubbornly clinging to dogma. In his life and teaching Jesus questioned the inflexibility of faith leaders, the focus on doing things rightly instead of lovely. As theologian Edward Schillebeeckx wrote, “Christianity is not a message which has to be believed, but an experience of faith that becomes a message.”

And that is exactly what Thomas wanted. In his time of grief, as he grieved the death of his friend, teacher, death of his dream for a new world, a new life. The fear he felt earlier had become real, scarily, bloodily real.

His world came crashing down and Jesus’ life and love was not the only thing crucified at the feet of certitude. So Thomas wanted to experience faith, to see, to feel.

And Thomas isn’t alone. Life hurts us and haunts us and for a lot of us it punches holes into faith. I’m not just talking about certain doctrines; theological statements like virgin birth, miraculous healings, walking on water, turning water into wine, and even a rolled away stone and an empty tomb. I’m talking about that deeper sense of connection, of meaning, of trust.

But Thomas truthfully, more often than not Thomas speaks for me, when I just don’t feel faith-full, When a lot of us who may be acutely aware of, feel the absence of Jesus—the absence God, the absence of connection. Thomas says he not only wants to see, he wants to feel. Well Thomas, so do I. Yes, a pastor, someone raised in the church. I am seeking, looking, questioning. So did Teilhard de Chardin, Jesuit priest, paleontologist, and philosopher, asked for such faith when he prayed, “In all those dark moments, O God, grant that I may understand that it is you who are painfully parting the fibers of my being in order to penetrate to the very marrow of my substance. . . .”

This is prayer; it is yearning for connection; it is yearning to when hearing the words peace be with you, to feel that peace, and that is what it is to be believing. It is connection, and Jesus reminds us in this story that when are not forgiving, the connection that God is making with us means that in holding on to sin, it clings to us, it becomes our responsibility, it becomes part of us, and when we forgive we are sending sin, guilt, shame it away, this is the power of the connection that the Spirit is seeking to incorporate the we share the peace, share communion, together as the body of Christ alive.

As Rob Bell who is in town here and spoke last night, has written: he says:

”Take faith for example. For many people in our world, the opposite of faith is doubt. The goal, then, within this understanding, is to eliminate doubt. But faith and doubt aren’t opposites. Doubt is often a sign that your faith has a pulse, that it’s alive and well and exploring and searching. Faith and doubt aren’t opposites, they are, it turns out, excellent dance partners.”

And do you know what you need to dance. You need a body, and that’s what Easter is about. It’s about the body, not just the one we read about Thomas seeing and touching, but the body of Christ present and real. That body of Christ that is wherever people hide in fear and pain, where people struggle to connect life and faith, experience and belief.

The body of Christ is where we begin with the gift of grace, begin with the word of peace, with the word of welcome and affirmation.

The body of Christ is where wounds are not hidden and where faith and doubt dance together, when Jesus takes the first step with a word of peace, and offers himself in a dance of love to Thomas, to all those called Thomas’s, to all the people, Jesus invites people into the dance of faith and doubt, the dance of the Village people.


Knock, knock –sermon for Easter 2018

Text – John 20

Time for All Ages (aka children’s sermon)

Knock, knock.

C: who’ there?

P: Alle

C: Alle who

P: Alle (l)who ia. Christ is Risen!

Today is Easter. It also happens to be April Fools Day. Both are celebrations. April Fools celebrates humor. Easter Celebrates Jesus’ resurrection – new life. Both are happy fun. So, I made this poster. Isn’t this awesome, fun, joyous? Nope? So I need your help. A couple of big people who will help you fix my sign.


Knock, knock.

C: who’ there?

P: Alle

C: Alle who

P: Alle (l)who ia.

Hey, where’s all the laughter? OK, I admit’s not guffaw-worthy, but at least a polite chuckle? I guess it’s just not so funny the second time around right, why?

Why is a joke better the first time you hear it? I’m asking you. I’m sorry if you ate a big breakfast, but you can’t sleep through this sermon. It’s Easter.

So, it’s not funny because … you expected it; you knew what was coming. There was no surprise and that’s one of the pieces of humor—the unexpected, the surprise. As one writer asserts: comedy is a drama in which the central motif is the triumph over adversity, leading to a successful conclusion. Sounds hilarious. OK, no but the point is surprise is key.

Of course, not all surprises are fun. In John’s Easter story, Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb to mourn for Jesus, she goes while the sky is still dark, go to his tomb and grieve his tragic and violent death. Her grief was so strong because his life, Jesus mattered, and those around him—the sick, the outcast, and even the women, Mary felt like they mattered to him. So on that morning when she was surprised by the stone moved from the empty tomb, it wasn’t funny to her. She wasn’t laughing as she ran to report what in the best case might have been a sad attempt by some pranksters at a practical joke, and more likely someone/they/the authorities took Jesus’ body as to yet another way to disrespect him, another way to negate his ministry—a way to erase him attempting to keep his followers from making it into some memorial to gather, to remember, to carry on. The surprise Mary felt that morning was not from joy but from fear and despair. For her it was no laughing matter as she raced back to tell the others. You can tell this is important, because Mary doesn’t just then go about her business. She returns to the tomb.

Mary on the other hand stood there at the tomb, tears streaming down her face. Her mind racing trying to figure out what had happened to her teacher, her friend. I can imagine her, in her grief, still trying to talk to him, asking, “Jesus, where are you?” And surprise, surprise he talked back, but she doesn’t listen; she can’t hear him; shstill doesn’t get it. She doesn’t get the surprise, yet. Because he’s just not supposed to be there doing that. A dead man is not supposed to be up walking around and talking to people. She mistakes her friend and teacher, a man she loved for the gardener.

Because some things are just not supposed to be there; they are a surprise.

Like Easter biscuits.

And I’m not talking about biscuits we had/might have had this morning. Which by the way, I bought and brought honey dip donuts. Mmm donuts.

But I also love biscuits. For me that’s the whole reason to go to KFC or Popeyes or Bob Evans or another place with breakfast foods. I love biscuits so much, that when I was in pick-n-save and saw that bag labeled biscuits-n-gravy, I had to try them. They were the best potato chips I ever ate. That’s right Lay’s biscuits-n-gravy potato chips. Biscuits—yum. So growing up biscuits were the only things I baked for every holiday dinner. That was until that fateful day when I add just a little too much, ok maybe a lot a lot too much baking powder to the mix. As an inexperienced baker I just thought the biscuits might taste a little different. You see, I do not always follow the directions of a recipe, and I tend to add a little extra of this, a little less of that, and maybe a creative substitute. So I plopped the dough on the cookie sheet, popped them in the oven, and when done, placed the regular nice looking biscuits in a basket on the Thanksgiving table. Imagine the surprise though when we tried to take a bite. They were rock hard. My family, always the epitome of love and support, called them hockey pucks and threw them out in the yard.

Months later after the snow melted, and the grass began to grow in the Eastern Pennsylvania spring. And before Sunday’s Easter Egg hunt my mother was out mowing the grass when suddenly the mower hit something, and that got stuck in the blades. When my mom tipped it over, there caught in the blades was one of those biscuits. It had risen from the earth at Easter, at least that’s the story my parents told for years and years, even telling a young man who hoped I would be his wife one day, for him bake him some of the biscuits I loved, well until the day he heard the story of my Easter biscuit surprise.

Jesus belonged wrapped in cloths, down in the tomb not walking around by the dawn’s early light talking to Mary. So she looked right at him, heard his voice, but mistook him for the gardener. That is until he says, “Mary”. When Jesus calls her name; it is finally the surprise of being known that opens her eyes, and allows her to see Jesus—to finally glimpse resurrection, to finally glimpse new life, to finally glimpse God’s power in love that can not be silence, buried, can not be erased.

As I get older and begin to appreciate family stories, as I get older and maybe wiser, I can imagine Mary, years later as she told this story again and again, I can imagine her. I can picture those who knew Jesus, knew her, knew them, I can picture the smile on her face, and a chuckle in her heart as she remembered and told of how she thought that Jesus, that the risen Christ was the gardener.

But all too often, the world wants to harden our hearts. The world wants to stifle the spirit. Hate, racism, despair, all the evils of this world feed on fear. It’s not impossible to be afraid and laugh, but it is really hard. But saints throughout the ages have found that laughter and joy are great antidotes to despair and fear. As abolitionist and feminist Sojourner Truth declared: “If we laugh and sing a little as we fight the good fight of freedom it makes it all go easier.” On this Easter and perhaps even on others, let us grow our faith, nurture our spirits with holy joy. Connecting our hearts, lungs, and diaphragms with deep joy and faith that connect with God’s passion—both the reality of the pain of death—and God’s passion God’s persistence and surprising penchant for love and life.

It is no wonder that some of the early church fathers (maybe a few mothers as well) used this term—risus paschalis—that’s Latin for the Easter laugh—the laugh that God echoed through the heavens when the wind/the Spirit/the Ruach of God entered into the lungs of the stone cold dead, when the power of God blew over that grave stone, and the Resurrected one peeled off and folded the cloth on his face, and then let the one that covered his body fall to the ground as he walked right out of the tomb, inhaled the sweet morning air and exhaled a Godly giggle. Help us starve fear and evil. Paul can tell us that death is swallowed up. That as lawn mower chokes on a rock hard biscuit, as God’s love rolls the stone away, as God’s love warms the stone cold heart, God’s Easter love is death’s death. Easter gives us new life because God wins—And really that shouldn’t be any big surprise. Amen.

So, knock knock.


Alle who.

Alle luia, Christ is Risen.

He is risen indeed. alleluia.

Me too, stardust, glitter and Jesus

Preaching text

John 8.1-11

1.while Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. 3The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, 4they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. 5Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”

Well, I’m going to go back on my word.

now I didn’t swear to it, but I told the liturgy committee when we were meeting weeks ago and taking a look at the texts for Lent, I told them that I would not preach about what Jesus wrote in the dirt. Because what if he was simply doodling to buy time? Or, as I’ve reflected on it, it occurred to me what if Jesus were listing the sins of the men who dragged that woman and stood in judgement of her? What if Jesus were writing the name of the man with whom she had committed adultery? You know it takes two. And, by the way maybe you are wondering why he’s not there to begin with? But that’s fodder for another sermon—a sermon on adultery (let’s see how popular that Sunday is?) or more accurately on the double standards in the bible. But, as I said that’s another sermon all together.

Today, I ask, what if Jesus wrote two little words in the dirt. What if kneeling down in the dirt in front of that woman we wrote: Me too.

Me too. The phrase created by

Social activist and community organizer Tarana Burke over 10 years ago. in 2006 as part of a grassroots campaign to promote “empowerment through empathy” among women of color who have experienced sexual abuse, particularly within underprivileged communities. Tarana Burke has said she was inspired to use the phrase after being unable to respond to a 13-year-old girl who confided to her that she had been sexually assaulted. Burke later wished she had simply told the girl, “me too”.[10]

More recently, Me too has been spoken to name and bring attention to the prevalence of sexual harassment and sexual assault in our country. Me too. the words of victims, words of survivors. Me too. Words that seek to re-claim the power that others have sought to take from women and from some men. Me too. In just two words, women and men have tried to say—you are not alone, me too, moves the experience from that of the individual to a community—me too makes me or you, or her, or him, or them — into we. Not to weaken the power of those two words, but again this week grieving families and communities can now respond Me too as victims and survivors of another school shooting. Perhaps if we think about our connections, maybe Me too can inspire us to we can add our names, add our energy to the struggle for gun law reform, for the work we are doing as a church with the Do Not Stand Idly By gun violence campaign. See Me too moves us beyond thoughts and prayers to declare we are not powerless, we will not remain silent victims. We may not have the exact same experience, but we can be one in resistance, one in strength, one in compassion. We are many, we are together, we are with one another. We are one—me too.

And isn’t that what Jesus is saying with the words, “without sin pick up the first stone”? And when we try to pull Jesus out of his humanity, let us remember that even Jesus doesn’t pick a stone, but writes in the dirt.

He writes in the dirt, and isn’t that the point of what some of us did and what some of us tried to do this past week. Me too, is the point of putting our finger in the dirt and marking our skin. Death is part of life, for me too. Sin, suffering, and selfishness is part of life, for me too. This is even and especially true for those who add that glitter to our ashes, to the dirt. It is a way to remind ourselves that are not disconnected from people in the LGBT+ community. We share a common humanity. We are all intertwined interconnected. As parts of liturgy tells us, and as Diana Butler Bass in her Book “Grounded: Finding God in the World, A Spiritual Revolution” points out, we are made of stardust. She quotes: British scientist and theologian Arthur Peacocke,[who] explains, “Every atom of iron in our blood would not be there, had it not been produced in some galactic explosion billions of years ago and eventually condensed to form the iron in the crust of the Earth from which we have emerged.” And, evidently tons of cosmic dust settles on our planet, on us, on animals, on the plants, in the dirt. And that Jesus himself: Like all human beings, he carried within himself the signature of the supernovas and the geology and life history of the Earth. The atoms comprising his body once belonged to other creatures.

The ashes this day can be symbols to us of so much more than just death, repentence, if that were not enough they connect us as stardust to the cycle of death and new life. The ashes are nothing more than the dirt Jesus wrote on that day with the woman. They are completely earth and it is the earth that is sacred. They are the stars and the stars are sacred. They are us and we are sacred.

So today if you wish you can come forward may the mark of dirt rubbed on to your skin, either your forehead or your hand, may you feel the touch of Jesus, may you feel the Sacred One who says to all who are hurting, to all who want to change their lives, who want to change the world, “me too”. Amen.

Birds do it, bees do it, even educated flees do it, let’s do it. Let’s fall in love –sermon on John 3.1-21

Jan 28, 2018

Let’s Do it – sung

“Birds do it, bees do it,

even educated flees do it.

Let’s do it.

Let’s fall in love.”

Some of you may be familiar with that Cole Porter song. The song asserts that just about every creature falls in love. I’m not a zoologist, but I’m pretty sure it’s not always love; pretty sure the action is not affection or even romance but what comes next. Put this way—in a PG way — k-i-ss-i-n-g first comes love then comes marriage, then comes baby in the baby carriage.

Birth—every creature is born in some way or another. That is I believe the truly universal experience—if you haven’t given birth, you probably know someone who has, and of course we all were born once. That’s why we sing that other song: happy birthday to celebrate the day you were born. Being born is universal. As the beginning of life it is utterly natural. Here’s a reminder all nature—just because it is natural doesn’t make it nice and wonderful. In fact it seldom is, nature is often terrifying. Just ask the bird between the paws of the cat. So often we talk about the miracle of childbirth. It is not because it is somehow other worldly; being born is messy, painful, dangerous and well terrifying.

Perhaps that is one of the many reasons Jesus tells Nicodemus that he, that we, must be born (anothen) the Greek word that can mean again or from above. Hence “born again” Christians. Christians who have taken Jesus’ words to heart—not literally (as Nicodemus first hears them) but almost. Born again Christians look for a moment when a person makes a decision to follow Jesus. I was taught that if every asked if I was born again to answer “yes, at my baptism”. That that one day when water was sprinkled on me and words said over me was my born again moment. But again this is a simple once and done.

But what if both born again Christians and us good orthodox traditional Lutherans are missing something? What if this once and done is too easy? Many readers and interpreters suggest that Nicodemus’ night time visit to Jesus symbolizes Nicodemus’ confusion; he both literally and figuratively “in the dark” . But as difficult as enlightenment is, perhaps something more is going on. Something truly dangerous

than simple knowledge—an intellectual exercise. Remember Jesus doesn’t live a long life as a philosopher and teacher. He is executed as a revolutionary. Nicodemus might be seeking out Jesus under the cover of darkness. The black shadows may provide a him sense of security.

And Jesus says we must be born again from above. Birth is the beginning of life (not of enlightenment, but life). What if Jesus is telling us, using the completely natural language of being born that we begin a new life, and we begin it again and again. But this life is dangerous—not just that one moment, but every day?

Can we feel God bearing down on us pressuring, pulling, and pushing us out of ourselves, out from a false stability of status quo, out of an addiction to a hollow heaven but into a slippery sanctity of nature, of humanity, of flesh, and blood, of spirit that isn’t just clouds but the power to blow around, over and down the temples to heaven and towers to powers of dollars. Being born from above is replete with pain and peril. But God’s kingdom, God’s empire, the divine’s reality is not about safety and security. And Jesus is telling us that the divine doesn’t abide our seeking comfort, our desire to be affirmed and confirmed in our rightness, quiet rooms of contemplation, little cocoons of self-satisfaction. Being born “anothen” (both from above and again) doesn’t happen once. It is a perpetually painful to pulled and pushed together in God’s love—to leave the warm wombs of comfort and security to feel and live in God’s love. God’s love for the world. The world is where God’s love lives. God embraces the

natural; love lives for you and me, for the he and she here and especially out there, and if you don’t know how hard and real, and bloody, painful that is, take a deep breath, allow God our mother, Jesus our midwife to push us out of ourselves, born for others, born again and again, born for the birds, for the bees, for the educated flees, for you and me’s let’s do it. Let’s fall in love. Amen.

Bugs Bunny, Anansi, & Jacob – sermon for Sept. 24, 2017

Elmer & Bugs, “What’s Opera Doc”


Preaching text:

Genesis 27:1-4, 15-23; 28:10-17

27:1 When Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see, he called his elder son Esau and said to him, “My son”; and he answered, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “See, I am old; I do not know the day of my death. 3 Now then, take your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field, and hunt game for me.

27:15 Then Rebekah took the best garments of her elder son Esau, which were with her in the house, and put them on her younger son Jacob; 16 and she put the skins of the kids on his hands and on the smooth part of his neck. 17 Then she handed the savory food, and the bread that she had prepared, to her son Jacob. 18 So he went in to his father, and said, “My father”; and he said, “Here I am; who are you, my son?” 19 Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you told me; now sit up and eat of my game, so that you may bless me.” 20 But Isaac said to his son, “How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?” He answered, “Because the Lord your God granted me success.” 21 Then Isaac said to Jacob, “Come near, that I may feel you, my son, to know whether you are really my son Esau or not.” 22 So Jacob went up to his father Isaac, who felt him and said, “The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” 23 He did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like his brother Esau’s hands; so he blessed him.

28:10 Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. 11 He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. 12 And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; 14 and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. 15 Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” 16 Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” 17 And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”


They just don’t tell them like used to. I mean, no offense Bob, that’s what the lectionary gave you—bits and pieces of the story—not enough to really get what’s goin’ on—how last week is connected to this wee, and what’s going on even behind the scenes in today’s reading. Stories are important, they are how we know who we are.

So, last week we heard about Isaac as a boy, and now 7 days and five chapters later, Isaac is an old man. How old is he? He is so old he can hardly see; I picture him laid out on some kind of bed, with a blanked. Isaac is so old that he, unlike those who predicted the word’s demise yesterday, Isaac knows the end is near. As he nears his end, Isaac decides it’s time to pass on his inheritance—to his son. So Isaac calls his first born son Esau and sends him out to do what Esau does best, go hunting, get some nice critter, like rabbit or some such and cook it up, kind of like a last meal. Sounds good right. That’s how things are supposed to go.

The problem is Esau has a brother, a younger brother; Jacob is younger by not even a minute. Esau and Jacob are twins, so close Jacob (as the story goes) grabs his older brother’s heel as Rebecca gives birth to them. I can only imagine Rebecca’s relief as she gets those two out into the world, because even before they were born we are told these two brothers were after each other, wrestling, tossing and tumbling, and not in a good way, in Rachel’s womb.

But the turmoil doesn’t end at 9 months; it’s just the start. Evidently, Isaac and Rebekah unlike all modern day good parents had favorites. Isaac loved Esau—the firstborn more, and Rebekah loved Jacob more. Esau was a hairy outdoorsy kind a guy, and Jacob he hung out with his mom in the tent, and he was smooth.

The problem isn’t just a matter of parental affection, however. There’s a lot more at stake here. You see as first-born son, Esau was set to inherit most, if not just about all of his father’s stuff. And by stuff, I mean flocks, slaves, weapons, gold, tents; Isaac’s place. Esau’s physical strength would be multiplied by his power as patriarch head of the family. All because he popped out first.

What would this leave Jacob with? Bubkis. Jacob’s mother, sure she’s Esau’s mother too, but children can tell when parents have favorites. It’s possible that Rebekah and her fav Jacob would be shut out, pushed out, out on their own. It’s not like this hasn’t ever happened before — (coughing) Hagar & Ishmael.

Now what comes next, I know it’s hard for us, many of us, have done well following the rules, who have decent respectable upstanding lives. We have some taste of power and privilege. It’s hard for us to accept what happens—how Jacob not only cheats his brother but seems to get rewarded by God for it. But what’s really going on here in this story?

So far, who’s at risk here? Who seems to have all the power and the advantages? Who’s the underdog? Who should we be routing for? Who’s got more power the hunter or the rabbit? The hunter. That’s right isn’t it? The hunter has his weapons; he has his gun—and with his gun Elmer’s going to “kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit…” Wait, did I just switch from Esau to Elmer and from Jacob to Bugs Bunny. I sure did and I’ll tell you what’s up doc.

See for way too long we’ve missed something in the telling and retelling of the story of Jacob. We’ve called him a cheat, a scoundrel, an usurper (and other words used in tweets) and even a trickster without really knowing what a trickster is. In storytelling—oral or written a trickster is a character who, because of whatever power dynamics, the trickster is the character who has to get by using their wits. Just like what Bugs a bunny has to do when faced with Elmer or Yosemite Sam or even the Donald (the Duck—not the president) . But the trickster is way older than 20th century cartoons. Tricksters come from many cultures and have many names, names like Anansi. Not too many of us may be familiar with Anansi. Anansi and variations of his name, is African and came to the Caribbean with the Africans stolen, kidnapped, and sold as slaves. Anansi in stories, often but not always, looks like a spider, and Anansi or Mr. Nancy uses his wits and wiles to trick the bigger stronger animals—so that Anansi can live.

The trickster tales of Anansi and others were told by Africans and their descendants however, not just as a way to spend some non-existent sleepy Saturday morning. These stories inspired the slaves to resist and survive, inspired the slaves to with a smile on their face take from their masters what their white oppressors wouldn’t give. Bugs Anansi and Bunny are tricksters, and as we see, so is Jacob. Of course, with a little help from his mother, a woman in the ancient world—who by the way— didn’t culturally have power of inheritance either to get it or give it. Isaac doesn’t call her to his bedside to pass on to her the inheritance. So, overhearing her husband Isaac’s plan, Rebekah makes her own. Calls her son Jacob over and tells him what to do, dresses him up (not in drag like Bugs Bunny so often does) but in his brother’s clothes, covers his smooth skin with animal hide, cooks up the dad’s favorite dish, and sends Jacob in to trick the dotard father.

Of course when Esau finds out what his “little” brother has done he declares he will take his spear and magic helmet kill the wabbit—kill Jacob. And that is why Jacob is sleeping under the stars with a rock for a pillow, dreaming of God. Dreaming of a God who has no problem, doesn’t even mention Jacob’s deception—what he’s already done, and spoiler alert, what he will continue to do to his uncle.

The church has interpreted God’s silence as basically giving Jacob a pass, as grace, as forgiveness. That’s great. We all, even and especiallyJacob can use all the love, the forgiveness, and grace we can get. And Jacob is going to take every bit of everything he can get, from a woman he loves, to her sister he “not so much” feeling the love and affection. He’ll take his uncle’s sheep and goats. He’ll even take his brother Esau’s forgiveness, because Jacob knows what it is to be at risk, to be discounted and maybe even demeaned, defined as lesser and worthless, and Jacob doesn’t let that define him. Our God is not the God of power, of the suburbs, the star spangled banner, of uniforms and rules of law and order, guns and gold. That’s the story of our God that gets us up even on a Sunday morning. Because our God declares, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham (the wandering refugee—the immigrant), the God of Isaac (the children threatened in our homes and our streets) and I will be the God of Bugs, Anansi, and all those who oppose and resist I am the God of Jacob the trickster. I am your God. That’s our story. Amen .

Labor of Love, or How many song titles in 1 Sermon

Sept. 4, 2017
On this Labor Day weekend, with school having just or just beginning, I invite you to listen and hear these wise words from a teacher, “ 2Vanity of vanities,! All is vanity. 3What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun? and …. 23For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.” This is from the 1st chapter of the book Eccleasiastes, in our Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible.
Toil, work, labor is vanity. It says it right there in our scriptures. So some of our modern day teachers, who may not only be enjoying these last few unofficial days of summer, the end of summer “Vacation” (Go Gos), and who also as of late have been the brunt of so much political disrespect. These and others laborers may be just “working for the weekend” (Loverboy), and if they could who would love to say, “Take this job and shove it”. But not of course till after this holiday weekend. 
Labor Day is not simply the sad farewell to summer; like the writer of Ecclesiastes does not just celebrate work and toil. This holiday is actually another benefit of a strong labor movement, so that we don’t all have to work “Seven Days of the week” , some can work “9 to 5” —the 40 hour work week, and the weekend, child labor laws, family sustaining wages, health care, retirement benefits, etc. and so forth. Organized Labor created this holiday to honor the men and women “Working on the Highway” (Bruce Springsteen) who’s hard work builds and makes the things we use, who grow, serve, and process the food we eat, the “Doctor, Doctor” (Iron Maiden) who care for our sick and elderly, and so much more—the “Working Class Hero” (John Lennon).
So for many of us tomorrow will not be ”Just another Manic Monday” (Bangles). However, work is, as the Teacher/the writer of the book of Eccleasiastes, not a picnic. Some men and women feel like they are “Just another brick in the wall”, a “slave to the wage”. We are a “slave to the grind” (Skid Row) trying to make “money, money, money” to buy stuff to just live, to buy stuff to make us “Happy” (Farrell) in this rat race called the American Dream. You know, as William Sloane Coffin, and comedians Jackie Gleason and Lilly Tomlin have said, “even if you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.”  
Lots of money is made by book writers, seminar speakers and others offering cures for this condition, fixes for this vanity. To words like self-care, balance, priorities, retirement, today I will add: the cross.
Oh great, you might be thinking, Pastor has finally gone “Crazy”—equating work with crucifixion. Do not worry, I am not saying that enduring work is bearing our cross. Because I think that is wrong understanding of taking up the cross. Work—toil, just like disease, just like tragedies like hurricanes, monsoons, droughts, and all sorts of evils, abuse, cancer—things that are thrust upon us, things that happen is not bearing the cross. Jesus calls his followers, you and me to take up the cross; it is a taking on (not merely accepting a bad situation). The cross is a choice, choice of God to endure state sponsored act of terrorism called crucifixion because Jesus chose to live and labor with the lost, to live and labor with the least, a life and labor of love.
Not being overcome by evil, but overcoming evil with good. That is taking up the cross that Jesus talks about. That is what we heard Paul saying in his letter to the church. This is what we as individuals and also we as a church do. Taking up the cross is: 9Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

14Bless those who persecute you; 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. That is taking up the cross. And it can be done in and through our everyday lives, in our work.
Al Letson was doing his job. He is host of the investigative radio program and podcast Reveal. One day just a few weeks ago, he was covering what was going to be a white supremacist march in San Francisco. Mr. Letson saw one right-wing man trip and fall to the ground, and then some left-wing antifa protesters started beating him. This journalist saw a crowd coming so he Letson jumped on top of the guy to protect him. This white supremacists was being shielded and protected by Al Leston, by the body of not just a journalist, but a black man.
When interviewed, Mr. Letson as asked whether any of this was going through is mind?
In Letson’s own words: LETSON: Yeah, none of it went into my mind at all. What came to me was that he was a human being. And I didn’t want to see anybody die. … And, you know, in retrospect, it doesn’t matter if he doesn’t see my humanity. What matters to me is that I see his. What he thinks about me and all of that, like, my humanity is not dependent upon that.
Letson went on to say:  

You know, I mean, this sounds really high-minded and maybe a little nutty, but I am a huge NPR nerd. And many years ago, I was listening to Terry Gross and Father Greg Boyle was on there.

And he gave this quote that has just stuck with me ever since. He said, I want to live like the truth is true and go where love has not been found. And it’s how I want to govern myself in the world.
We may work to earn money, but we can’t work and toil to earn love. That’s what the words of Ecclesiastes tells us. Our work does not define us. But we can define our work. We define it with the cross of Jesus, the love of Jesus. As Al Letson says, “live like the truth is true and go where love has not been found. We labor at our jobs, with our families, in our retirement, as a church—when we speak, when we act, it is the labor of love—not for rewards, not for RESPECT, not even for members. Ours are labors of love because we are already incredibly and unconditionally loved by God. Everyday we get to choose to to carry the cross of love in this world—to live as the truth is true and go where love has not been found. There is nothing vain in that. It’s just “This is how we do” (Katy Perry). Amen.

Do not “let go, and let God”

Aug 13, 2017Preaching text: Matthew 14:22-33

22Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” 28Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

“Just let go. You just have to let go.”
This is not that “let go and let God” stuff we see on bumperstickers. But I was definitely being told; it was clear I had to let go. Let go and let gravity. You see, one of the many thrilling activities tourists can do in Costa Rica is zip lining. That’s when you pay money to put on a harness, climb up into the trees of the rain or cloud forests, attach yourself to metal wires strung from the top of said trees and then zip – hang and glide from the top of one tree to another. This was one of the adventures that I knew the rest of my family would love to do. So reservations made; we were picked up at our hotel, and delivered to the office in the forest, signed our waiver’s, and looking around I saw pictures on the wall of those who had gone before us; I looked and there in some slightly faded pictures were Jimmy and Rosalynn, as in former president Jimmy Carter and his wife. I pointed these out to my family and quietly noted this in my mind. That if a former president and his wife, who were considerably older than myself, had done this zip lining thing here, It was probably almost safe enough for me.   
This is really important, because as I have shared with you my brothers and sisters of the church, I have anxieties. I haven’t been exactly specific with my list, but I can tell you that I am afraid of drowning, therefore I dislike boats. I am generally distrusting of anything I can not control, so I get super anxious flying, or riding in a car. And, I am generally afraid of heights. I can step a few feet up a ladder, but more than that and the stomach gets all tied up in knots. Put it this way, if something can go horribly wrong in any situation, I’ve probably already imagined it. I also have been afraid and anxious of speaking in public. In fact as I am typing this sermon, my palms are sweating and my hands will be cold as a result of fear and anxiety our blood will move to our major organs so that we can fight/flight our way out of the stressful situation. Let’s see if they are when I’m preaching this.
Needless to say, I was anxious about this zip lining thing. But this is what people do. Literally hundreds of thousands of tourists have done this; and as I reasoned in my head it’s not in a zip lining tour company’s best interest to have tourists falling from trees. Besides, I had to show my family that I was strong. I can do this. These are all the thoughts racing through my head, as I declare “I’ll do it!” When the guides asked, “Who’s first?” See, I know I have to just do it, get it over with, the longer I wait the worse it will be, and I know that one way of dealing with fear is to actually jump right in. That’s why when I was learning to be a pastor, as an intern serving in a congregation for the first time, I insisted that I preach every other week.
So the first part of this particular zip line course is what is called a tarzan swing, where you simply climb several flights of wooden stairs to wooden platform. Which I did and then moved to the edge and grabbed hold of the railing while they hooked my harness to the wires, and then all I had to do was let go and move away from the railing to the open space and step over the edge. Except I didn’t. I didn’t let go. I saw the ground and the trees way below, I saw my family and I declared “I don’t want to”, even outloud, and the patient guide behind me said, “let go.” again and again, till somehow I released my death-grip on the wood, and my guide I swear he gave me a gentle push, slight shove and there I was swinging back and forth, nothing beneath my feat. With that first step taken, I then proceeded to make my way along the 14 lines, hugging the tree trunk each time I made it to a platform, till the 2nd to last zip line that was over 800 meters long over a valley. All because I did what I was told and I let go. I did it, and I survived.
If only it were that easy. If only we could just strap into some safety equipment and glide right through life. If only we could just let go of the fears we are holding onto, the fears that grip us. If only we could simply do what Jesus tells us— to take heart and have no fear. That’s what we hear in this story, we hear the story of Peter stepping out of that boat in faith, and even when he starts to sink, Jesus is right there to lift him up. I imagine that’s the point of this miracle story, after all this miracle of walking on water doesn’t do much else, no one is fed, no demons are cast out, no one is healed, no one is saved. Except a guy that shouldn’t have been steppin out of the boat in the first place. Who if you notice, Peter walking on water wasn’t Jesus’ idea. Peter tells Jesus, “call me out there, order me, make me do it”. What was Peter thinking?

 What was he thinking? What was she thinking? The clergy that put on stoles and robes, linked arms and walked down the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia yesterday morning. The churches that gathered in parks to pray, speak, and witness peace. The non-violent protestors who stood to counter the Unite the Right, white supremacist rally. The people who rushed to help the wounded when that Christian terrorist drove a car into the crowd. The people who witnessed to God’s love and not human hate. And those of us so far away who must and will even if we loose family, loose friends, name this sin of racism, name the sin of our white power and privilege; acknowledge the pain and reality of institutions, systems, laws that benefit white people giving us our wealth, our opportunities for better education, our better relations with law enforcement.

 Of course, effective protests, effective actions really do take a lot more thought and planning than what we see with Peter’s seeming impromptu “order me to come out”. But, at the same time, at least Peter does something. He doesn’t call a committee together to discuss and debate. He doesn’t take a poll or a vote. Trust me, Peter is not always a faith hero, some super religious roll-model by any standard. This guy doesn’t walk on water—well except for a moment in this story.

 Of course this isn’t Peter’s or the other disciples first encounter with Jesus, with his way of walking the path of God. So it’s not like Peter and the rest had no idea about this Jesus guy. Just like a lot of us, this isn’t our first trip. We are the church we know what Jesus is all about. God isn’t just some distant judge needing to hear our prayers and praise; God isn’t just trying to get us up to some heavenly rest. God walks this earth, ok in this story, walks the waves, honors creation, becomes part of it, breathes it, needs it to sustain life. How can we let fear paralyze us? How can let fear allow us to just let things slide? How can we let fear focus us on us? It’s not that we’re going to miraculously loose our fear; it will not evaporate like a little puddle on a hot day. Our problems, pains, perils run deep. Fear is real. We can’t pray it away, but we sure can work a way through it. Own it; acknowledge it. We’re all in that boat right there with the disciples. This miracle doesn’t have to be just about some superfluous treading on water. This can be a miracle for us that does feed us; feed our imagination about God’s power; it can heal us from our limited and the limitations we put on God and faith. I would even love to be able to say that this story of this miracle can cast out the demons of fear. For some that might happen. For me, the best I can hope for, the best I can pray for, the best I can practice each day is to work a way through fear. We all need to let go, not “let go and let God”. But to let go and let’s go. so that we can step out, with our fear, speak out with a crack in our voice, put our cold and clammy hands to work. So maybe for today for once welcome this miracle, don’t try to explain it away or dismiss it, just let it go, accept a miracle, step over the edge, off the ledge and let go of ourselves. Amen.