Revdonna's Blog

Turning the world upside down. Acts 17.6

Dirty Hands

Dirty

He got his hands dirty.  Jesus did. 

 

That first Easter day that we heard about in our Gospel for today, I do believe that the men and women in that room, saw the dirt.  To prove to them that it really was him back in the flesh, Jesus tells them to look at my hands and feet, touch the flesh and bones.

The disciples are looking at skin, and skin–well, it get’s dirty.

Ghosts don’t get dirty.  There’s nothing there for the dust and grime of life to stick to not like real live skin.

  Jesus skin that had touched:

–the pale dust from the hay in the manger the day he was born

–the brown mud from the river Jordan the day he was baptized

–the red and yellow from the sands and rocks of the 40 days in the wilderness

–the dust of ancient scrolls held by the hands of his people for generations 

–the white sand of seashore as he called Simon, James and John

–the invisible but very real uncleanness of those he touched to heal, a man with leprosy, a woman Jesus reaches out and touches on sabbath,

–the filthy money that day he called Levi the tax collector

–not to mention the “who knows what” that was on a dead man’s bed

–the oil from the hands of a sinful woman

–the crumbs from the bread that day he fed 5000

–the crud and soil as he walked from one town and village to another on his way to Jerusalem

–the icky sticky–ness of the little children he touched and blessed

–the hairs of the colt who carried him into Jerusalem,

–the stain of blood and dirt that clung to him as he was arrested, beaten, interrogated, tortured and crucified

–the earth of the tomb they laid him in

Looking at those hands, those feet they could see this really was Jesus.  They recognized him this time not in the breaking of the bread but in the hands he gave them, the hands that picked up a bite of fish.  They saw the dirt; they saw his hands.

But that wasn’t all.  Because Jesus wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty–he felt life and death.  Now, the gospel writer Luke doesn’t mention the wounds, but we can believe they were there.  That when he showed his hands his feet, his wounds from just a few days ago were still there.

Some people might be ashamed of these wounds, for they see in them vulnerability; they see in them uncertainty, and pain and defeat. And in our culture those can be signs of weakness.  But that is not the way it has to be.  Instead we can see within these wounds, within scars a source of strength. For those wounds bear witness that Jesus did not let fear hold him back.  The wounds show what it took, the struggle, to overcome sin, evil, and death. Those are the wounds that can now have given us strength.  His wounds, his hands, his feet. For some of us, when imagine them, we see ourselves.  We see the wounds we bear and the dirt that’s stuck to us, either what’s on the outside for all the world to see, or in the inside, almost invisible.  We can look at his feet, and we can find strength because we feel that Jesus knows us, Jesus loves us, and Jesus wants us, even needs us.  

Yes, needs us, needs our hands, our voices, our creativity, our hearts, our minds opened and directed by God’s Word,  Because the struggle is not over.  In the resurrection, Jesus overcame evil and sin, and death.  The problem is a lot of us don’t, can’t, or won’t see it.

Because just take a look at the world around us, murders in our city, the man shot in the back by the police officer, this week is the 2nd anniversary of the Boston marathon bombing, the 20th anniversary of Oklahoma City bombing.  This month is sexual assault awareness month, because people continue to  use their hands to hurt one another.  

With all this pain, and so much more, the devil is waiting for us to throw up our hands in surrender and give in, give in to violence.  

But that is not the way of Jesus.  He did not overcome by building a bigger, or more lethal cross; he did not drop crosses from drones in the sky; he did not tell his followers to shoot first.  Matthew’s gospel Jesus says to us, if you live by the sword, die by the sword.  These words have been echoed by the followers of Jesus like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. told us that “hate begets hate, violence begets violence” … Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Jesus didn’t hold back; he wasn’t afraid to get dirty–to heal, to teach, to live and die for us. Forgiveness is spoken with his words Peace be with you; forgiveness is offered with his hands held out for us.  He reaches out to us, asks to take our hands, and to well get dirty, just like he did.  To always, again and again be open to others, reach out to others–to hold this wounded world in peace, so that those words “God’s Work, Our Hands” are not just a slogan worn on a t-shirt one day in September.  Thursday afternoon, I went outside to sit on the steps enjoy the sunshine, perhaps talk with neighbors, and I took the sidewalk chalk out with me.  Stepping out, I saw a mom and her daughter resting on the steps.  Together we wrote and colored not messages, prayers on the sidewalk along Wisconsin Ave.  By the end our hands were covered in chalk dust and a space of time and place of much needed peace had been made on our street.  It is with our hands, the ones that we dig in our wallets and pockets to spend money, hands that mark our ballots at elections, typing and texting, that drive our cars, the hands we offer to one another.  These are the hands that will get dirty answering our prayers for peace. Amen.

Certainly Lost – Sermon on Matthew 28.16-20

 

 

Hi all, just a reminder this is a spoken event, ignore bad grammar

Well that’s it.  Everything I thought I knew about life, meaning, existence it’s all rubbish.  There used to be things that I was certain about.  The sun comes up in the East, goes down in the West.  Chickens lay eggs, penguins don’t fly, and men don’t stop to ask for directions, especially compared to women.  That we women will admit to being lost and ask for help and men won’t.   Am I right? In a study done by AAA, men if lost will stop to ask for directions 34% of the time.  34%.  Anyone want to guess what percent of the time women if they get lost driving, what percent of the time they will stop?  The answer: 37%. 

What?  Now I bet you are going to tell me that the sky is not blue, and the sun is not hot!  I was so certain; now it’s all “out the window”.

Doubt has entered my mind. How can I be certain of anything?  But, contrary to popular opinion, that’s kinda what Jesus does.  That’s what faith in Jesus as the resurrected and risen Lord does.  It questions everything.  We used to think that death was “the End”, fin, finito, that’s all folks.  But in our gospel for today, Jesus who had been tortured and crucified, dead and buried, was standing there with his apostles giving them directions.  No wonder, Matthew tells us they worshiped and some doubted.

I think those are words that we should not so easily skip over.  You see for the longest time, well and still to this day, there is this idea within the church and outside that doubt is a bad thing.  That good Christians don’t doubt or have doubts.  That we are unquestioning and unthinking.  That there is no room for doubt, that there is no room for wondering and wandering.  If that were true there would be no room for some of the first apostles and no room for me and people like me–people who wrestle and struggle with faith.  

Church at its best is the gathering of people who are looking and yearning for hope.  Pope Francis has been quoted saying, “If one has the answers to all the questions – that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself. The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt. You must leave room for the Lord, not for our certainties; we must be humble.

So they worshiped and doubted, and yes, Jesus gave them a misssion, gave them directions.  Go make disciples, baptize, teach.  These are given to all of them, not just the non-doubters.  All.  And you know what, though the world has changed, these directions are still good today-.  Church, people, we have not arrived our destination. We are not done.  Not by a long shot.  -go make disciples, baptize, and teach

You see in today’s world there’s a lot to make people uncertain, a lot to make people fearful and mistrusting, there’s a lot to make people feel hopeless, lost and alone.  Some people may be looking for certitude, but a lot of people are going about their day, living their lives, going on their way looking for exactly what we have–not all the answers, but honesty.  Not certainty, but hope.  Not turn by turn commands, but a direction.

Jesus gives us the direction and it isn’t to stay here and worship, to just make us feel good and comfortable; it is to go.  It is to go back to our homes, with our family, with our friends, with the person who cuts our hair, does our nails, checks our groceries, pours our coffee.  It is to go to the people who walk these streets, live in these apartments, and houses, who are here in this neighborhood.  It is to go to those people, to listen to them, humbly show and speak words of love, to show them the Jesus who didn’t stay buried in a tomb, didn’t stay locked up in a room like this.  

Jesus says go, and oh by the way.  You are not alone.  You’re not alone here in doubts, and pains.  If you are feeling disappointed.  If you are feeling challenged, or are wondering and wandering.   If you feel lost, you are not alone.  You are not alone.  You’re not alone out there either.  You’ve got all of us, we’re in this together, and Jesus is with us to the end of the day when the sun goes down in the west, Jesus is with us to the end to our last breath, and death and evil will not will, Jesus is with us, Jesus will get us there, we will live again.  Amen.

Goats Ain’t Dumb, but God wants Sheeple – Sermon on Matthew 25.31-46

Sermon actually began during the Children’s Message, as the children and youth who have gone to Stepping Stones Farm describe William Goat.  We decided that he was determined and smart.  Also, pictures of our various ministries and other artwork were being shown on the wall next to the pulpit.  Those pictures are referenced in the sermon.

Asking the kids: who is William?

The kids sermon will actually be more like a sermon given to the congregation by the kids. 

  Unfortunately, we are city folk and we may not have spent a lot of time with sheep and goats.  However, this past year our youth did get to and will again go to a farm, and on the farm we met William.  Let’s describe William. 

 

Cats and dogs.  Horse and camel. Cat and mouse. Fox and rabbit. Of all the possible animal pairings, Jesus chooses sheep and goats.  Besides their being so familiar and  part of the world of Middle East, I think the choice Jesus made was not random.  It was based upon what I see as the nature of the beast.  I think he is counting on us knowing someone like William, William T. Goat–the smart goat we heard about in the children’s message.  Goats are evidently smarter than sheep.  Perhaps we can say, they are too smart for their own good. 

Goats ain’t dumb.  They know that sometimes people are hungry because they spend their money on cigarettes, gambling, drugs, spending on this that and the other thing–big houses with even bigger mortgages, credit card bills that will never balance. Some people are thirsty because all they put in their cups is booze or beer.  Goats are wary and don’t welcome the stranger because goats know the stranger might be/most likely trying to get something.  Goats figure you must have done something pretty darn bad to be naked, homeless, or in trouble with the law.   Goats know that a lot of folks are lazy, ungrateful, demanding. Goats know others as needy, goats see others as users, takers. They are wise to the ways of the worlds.  

Goats ain’t dumb. They know that if we give, give, give, give soon there will be no more.  They know we do not have enough money, not enough people, not enough time, not enough resources for us.  They know.  They are very smart. 

Goats ain’t dumb, but it’s pretty clear in the Bible, from our story for today, Jesus doesn’t want a bunch of goats.  He wants sheeple.

Now, I can’t take credit for the word sheeple–the combination of sheep and people.  It’s a creation of my sister Jane came up with, and that’s a whole other story. 

Jesus wants people, wants us to be sheeple–the ones who care and give, who feed the hungry, who make sure that people can eat, who make sure that people have clothes, welcome and value friends and strangers alike, visit the sick, who make sure that justice is done, and who even love the imprisoned.  Some goats would say we we are wasting our time; some goats would say we are being taken advantage of; some goats say the system (economic, justice, educational systems are just fine).  Some goats would say that we sheeple are dumb.  

But you know what?   In Jesus’ story, do the goats with all their smarts know that they weren’t on the right path, did the goats recognize Jesus.  NO!  The goats were actually not all that much smarter than the sheep, right?   Both the sheep and the goats didn’t see Jesus.  They missed him.  Because when they saw people in need, well the goats saw takers who want our stuff.  Sheep well they see what you’ve been able to watch up here on the wall, and let me tell you, to sheeple that is not dumb.

  

Of course, we sheeple know a thing or two ourselves.  Sheeple know that what we do is not always smiles and laughter.  The work we sheeple do is sometimes hard, we get tired, people get on our nerves.  We see people in these pictures who we haven’t seen in a while, who may never have come and sat in our pews on a Sunday morning to worship with us, but you know the real difference between sheep and goats, sheeple?  The real difference isn’t that one is smarter than the other.  Because let me tell you sometimes I am a goat, and sometimes I’m a sheep.  The thing, the difference is being a goat is focusing and thinking about on me, mine, and us.  Being sheeple is when we stop that because we know it’s not about us.  Following Jesus is not about getting more people in here to give, to do, to make us feel good and comfortable.  Sheeple know that it’s not about us.  This may not be very smart by some peoples’ standards, but what do you see up there in those pictures?

There’s the obvious: God’s children, smiles, giving, laughter.  That’s great.  Studies even show that people who are generous, people who give of themselves tend to live longer.  Truly generous and loving people tend to be happier, and in a study from the UK, older people who said they were happy, even for a little while, were less likely to die over a five-year period. And the happier they were, the longer they lived.  Overall, the results showed that older people who reported feeling happiest had a 35% lower risk of dying during the study than those who were least happy.  Our spirits, bodies, blood pressure and yes, as it says in 2 Corinthians 9 – “God loves a cheerful giver.”

Of course, caring for, giving, and being with others can make us feel good, bring a smile to our face, be good for our health.  But it’s still not about us.   No, we don’t feed, clothe, give, visit, care, just to make us feel good, my look at how nice we are, look at how the people love us, appreciate us.  No, we sheeple do this because it may bring a smile to someone, it may make them feel loved, welcomed, respected for at least a moment, and most importantly now, because we know, because we know the love of God, because in the doing–we see Jesus.  Jesus is the love of God, and sheeple see Jesus in every act of love–giving of our time, our money, and giving especially of ourselves.  Jesus didn’t die on the cross because he was so smart.  

So, while goats ain’t dumb, the thing about sheeple is that we are everywhere.  We are in these pews, we are in the choir, we are out on the street, we are the man who comes to get a pair of shoes, not because his are worn and full of holes, but because a friend has none. We are Judge Craig Mitchell of Los Angeles, a criminal court judge who helped organized a running club in Skid Row in LA.  Skid Row is where the homeless live.  One of the runners is Ryan Navales–one time homeless man addicted to drugs.

Running became a big part of Navales’ recovery. The physical exercise gave him a boost, and so did the unexpected friend he found in Mitchell.

Judge Mitchell organized and sponsored, buying 15 pairs of sneakers and contributing a large chunk of the $77,000 it would take for this team of Skid Row runners to run participate in the marathon that began at the Colosseum, in Rome Italy, just a few hours ago, this morning.

Of Judge Mitchell, Ryan Navales says “He saw us for who we are,” … “And he treated us like equals. That was important in those early stages. You know, trying to find some kind of self-worth and some self-confidence and some positive momentum in life.”

Goats ain’t dumb, but when we see people for who they really are and not just what the world sees, when we see that this whole thing is not about us, and when we love as Jesus loves–well that’s when we become not just a bunch of smart goats, that’s when we become, sheeple, and that’s when we hear “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world”.  I don’t know about you, it doesn’t matter that goats ain’t dumb, I still would rather be a sheeple.  Amen.

 

Beauty Walks the Red Carpet – Sermon for Matthew 22.1-14

   We started the worship time with people being interviewd on our red carpet.  They had been invited to wear or bring something that made them feel beautiful, or good.  We did this again during the children’s sermon time.



Dior, Calvin Klein, Versace, Saint Lauren.  Who are you wearing?  Those are probably not the names we would use.  It’s not like we run out, after the Oscars or after fashion shows to buy the latest couture.  We are not questioned, “Who are you wearing?”  This year, though with #askhermore campaign, Hollywood itself of course realized there’s more to a person than what he or she is wearing. 

It might seem that the king in our parable, the story today, was not quite that enlightened, after all that has happened in this story (the people ignoring and some  attacking the messengers inviting them to come to his party), after finally filling his banquet room, the King is worried about what one guest is wearing or actually not wearing. 

 David Lose, Lutheran seminary professor who writes a weekly article on Sunday’s gospel lesson and he began his thoughts this week by saying,“Let’s just admit it: this is an ugly parable.”  There seems to be nothing beautiful in this story.  It is filled with rejection, death and destruction. It is hard to see what good news Jesus is trying to give us about the kingdom.  There’s not a lot of love in the lines we read this morning.  But like the pictures of that dress going around on the internet and TV, perhaps if we just look at it a little different light, we’ll see something different. Although, I will be honest, it will not clean up completely.  It will not fit neatly.

The king in this story intends to throw a wedding party, and it’s not just some thing he kinda would like to do.  He is committed, desperate, determined.  Nothing is going to stop him from filling his hall, his chairs, his table with people.  But, for various and sundry reasons, well the people do not want to.  They are too busy, they don’t like him, they don’t want to be bothered, or bought with his buffet of food, drink, money, prestige, and power.  They don’t want what he’s offering, even the guy at the end of the story, who makes it through the door, but not much more, his heart is not in it.  The king is persistent and we might say relentless, and he does finally fill his room with people who will put on the wedding robe, who will party, who will participate, who will respect, and who will honor him.

That can be what this is all about, by putting on the king’s robes, the people invited to the party, they are attaching themselves to him, as we say now-a-days they are “all in”. Who are they wearing? they are wearing King.  Just maybe Jesus wants us to stick with these folks, the ones who are invited, welcomed, maybe even brought a bit kicking and screaming into the feast, but then they are the ones who put on the robe–who gladly wear the party pants.

Of course we know that if you can actually put a dress and lipstick on a pig, well it’s still a pig.  If you can get one to do it, it’s just a prettier pig.  But as you have been sharing, there is a bit of truth, a bit of wisdom to the phrase the clothes make the man, and in our case woman, boy or girl.  examples:

Dressing up, when we can, can help us feel good, beautiful, important.  And at the same time, who doesn’t like to come home kick off their shoes, maybe slip into something comfortable like sweatshirt, or at the end of the day those comfy pajamas to help us relax.  What we wear, what we put on the outside can change us, our attitude our demeanor, even if it is ever so slightly, lift our spirits, shape our mood, help us show the world a bit of what’s going on on the inside.

It is no accident that in Romans 13, Paul tells us to :put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.  Paul is urging us to get dressed in Jesus.  The love that Jesus invites into is one that we can put on, to show to the world.  Because, following Jesus is not just about what’s going on on the inside, but also wearing it for all the world to see.  

We know what it is to bundle ourselves up.  With the break in the cold, I know that many of us are looking forward to not having to bundle and wrap up in layers, in hats, and mittens.  We know what that is like putting on all those things to brave and face the cold and wind.  So what if each morning, what if in addition to all the stuff you put on, you imagine yourself bundling up, maybe even pretend to wrap yourself in one more piece–the love of Christ, the strength of the Spirit.  Coated and clothed in that you will be a different type of beauty, not one maked up with maybelline, cover girl, but made up of boldness of belief, and with fearless faith. Putting on Christ, means don’t have to be putting out, and put upon.  Because Jesus makes us worthy.  This is better than any Cinderella story, this is not just wardrobe, but a life change, life transformation. Jesus clothes us with forgiveness so that our outfit may be merciful.  Putting on Jesus, changes the patterns and designs from those of death and rejection, to life and hope.  Jesus invites us today to walk this red carpet.  But unlike all those award shows where there is only one winner, here all of us are granted and are given the greatest reward.  

This is our red carpet moment, and I may never be asked.  In truth, I hope that I (I hope that you) are never have to be asked “who are you wearing”, because we pray that each and every day, no matter where we are, no matter what’s going on, no matter what we are wearing, we pray that all who see us can plainly see, that who we are wearing is Christ, that we have put on the Lord Jesus.  Amen.

ice cream cones, beer mugs, and grudges – forgiveness. Sermon on Matthew 18.15-35

I used to be proud of this talent I had as a kid. My first job was making soft serve ice cream cones at Dorney Park in Allentown. I was good at it. Pretty quickly I learned how to hold and fill 5 ice cream cones in one hand. But then a few years later, I saw this. This is a beer mug from the Hofbrau Haus in Munich, and I saw ladies in dirndls carrying filled beer mugs 2, 3, 4, 5 and even 6 of these in one hand.

Do you think there’s something in my, in the German heritage or some genetic trait that has gifted myself and others with this amazing ability to grab and hold on. Now-a-days, I don’t have too much use of my ice cream cone grip, but I think that talent still runs through my veins. You see, while a name can easily slip from my mind, I don’t forget the slightest slight or insult. I don’t let go of when someone’s done me wrong. All sorts of past hurts are locked up here safe and sound, tight and bound — like steel trap. Don’t worry, almost none of the sins against me have gotten out. They are all safe right here, as long as I don’t bring them out, as long as I don’t talk about them. I’m too good of a Lutheran for that.

For Jesus, he was not a Lutheran. The proof is right here. We read it in the Gospel this morning. When someone hurts me, sins against me, Jesus wants me to talk about what happened.

I can do that. Actually, I’m pretty good about talking about who hurt me; I have absolutely no problem picking up the phone, I have no problem sitting down with someone and telling them all about what so and so did to me, or said to me, or said about me. Maybe that’s why I keep such a firm grip on all these incidences. After all, I have to have something to talk about. Didn’t some wise person say if you don’t have anything nice to say–no wait that’s not right. Anyway, I think it’s a good idea to keep those injustices and injuries at the ready, so that I can reach deep into the recesses of my heart, I can grab a hold of that hurt, pull it out and show it off.

So yes, I can talk about the person, but to talk to them. Well, Jesus that’s a whole other matter. And Bless your heart Jesus, but that’s just not nice. And I am way too nice to ever actually say anything face to face. That could cause all sorts of uncomfortable conflict. Nope definitely not nice, and although I wasn’t raised in Minnesota or Wisconsin, I was raised to be nice.

So no Jesus, I think I’m just keep on holding to all that hurt. It may make my raise my blood pressure. It might make me bitter, and some may call it being stubborn or pigheaded. Like I said at the beginning I’m pretty good at holding on.good at it. I call it being safe. You see, if I let go any of that stuff. I just don’t know what could happen. I know what it’s like to be angry, I know how to be sad, and resentful. I know how to hold onto and carry a grudge, and I am so talented not just one, but I can handle a bunch, lots and lots of them. Jesus wants me to let it go, just like that song from Frozen, Let it go, let it go. But I’m not Elsa or Olaf, and I don’t like the cold. I like the warm heat of my anger, the little furnace of fury that can get lit in here. Like I said, I know how that feels. It’s comfortable, it’s what I’m used to, even if it doesn’t feel good. Even if it’s not good for my soul.

I have read the story, the parable Jesus tells, I know the 70 x 7 means not a real mathematical number, but a way to say to completeness–. I know Jesus and your church is all about not the base but the grace, bout the grace.

But forgiveness well that’s hard, and deep in my heart well, I think I’m maybe a bit too lazy, or I’m a bit too scared or weak. Forgiveness is for the strong.

Forgiveness is real for this man named Hector. Hector has shared his story several times. I don’t know if Hector is still alive. He served in WWII, then in the 60’s he and his wife and daughters moved to Atlanta to be part of the Civil Rights Movement. There he met this little girl named Patricia. Patricia didn’t have a great home life, and so she turned to Hector and his family. After awhile Hector and his family claimed Patricia as part of the family, and she moved to Tennesee with the them. Years later after Patricia graduated high school, she moved back to Atlanta. It was there that a man, robbed, assaulted, and killed Patricia. I could hear the pain, the heartbreak in Hector’s voice as he told the story of her murder. He recounted how he swore he would kill the man who hurt his daughter. He talked about years after still being plagued by visions of what had happened to Patricia. When the man was being sentenced Hector as the victim’s father spoke about his pain, but he also prayed for the peace of God, for himself, his family, and even for Ivan–that’s the name of the man who had killed his daughter. It wasn’t till years later In fact, in the story he shared he told about how he and his wife eventually sent the man, the perpetrator a Christmas package. It didn’t happen overnight, and we can not and should never say that the murder was forgotten. The man will be in prison for the rest of his life. Hector even thought questioned what, why in the world. Hector and his wife would visited Ivan, and eventually come to hug and hold the man who murdered his daughter. It didn’t come easily, but as a Quaker Christian forgiveness was real to Hecto. IAnd when Hector realized that he was forgiving Ivan, he said it felt like a great weight was lifted from him.

Years later Hector attended a group meeting of families who have been victims of violence. He remembers hearing a woman tell the story of her brothers murder. He remembers how angry she was, how although the crime had happened over a decade ago, her anger was fresh and hot and burning. Hector remarked that to him, that was no way to live. And it is true that forgiveness does not mean to stay in an abusive relationship. God desires reconciliation and not victimization.

I could say that my pains, pale in comparison to Hectors, but they are still mine. Or maybe I am still their’s. maybe it isn’t me that’s holding them; maybe they are holding me. Maybe I am letting the pain, the anger, the hurt hold me down, instead of allowing God’s grace to really grab a hold of me, and free me. Maybe I shouldn’t be so proud of what I can handle, but proud of the hands that hold me, and more than that proud of the hands that hold us all. It may not always feel good, it may be scary, but it is why we are here and it is as Jesus tells how we are to be here, how we are to be the church together, how we are to relate to one another–not by anonymous surveys, not by some people are saying, but by actually sitting down, being and talking together, that is being the church, being with one another–to speak with and not about one another with love and forgiveness. Let me be the first to say it may not feel nice and easy. But true strength doesn’t come from holding on. It comes from the love of God that Jesus gives and shows us. Forgiveness forms us, forgiveness frees us. If there is anything for us to stubbornly hold on to it is that the heart and soul of our faith is forgiveness; and that’s what we should never let go, because God never let’s go of us. Amen.

You all are a bunch of tools! — Sermon for Feb. 1st, 2015, Matthew 6:7-21

Now that I got your attention.

January.I’m glad that’s over. It’s not just the cold and obviously the winter snow that’s done. You see, someone a “friend” joined me to this fb group “The month of a 100 things.” And this is like the complete opposite of a Fruit of the Month Club. This is a challenge that began several years ago, by a man named Mark Bruno, and it’s all about pairing life down to essentials, to live with 100 things. Several years later it’s morphed changed into this fb challenge for January to get rid of 100 things, stuff, clutter and then share publicly on FB, how its going. I wonder if my “friend” thinks I’m some kind of hoarder, who is she to join me to this group. I will be so glad to be rid of these daily posts of people getting rid of kitchen stuff, books, gobs and gobs of clothing.

You know, though, I really can’t imagine that Jesus’ audience–when he told those people gathered to hear his teaching were a bunch of hoarders needing an intervention. When Jesus is talking about storing up treasures on earth. I don’t think he is dealing with our culture of consumption. Much like in the developing countries, the people he’s talking with people who don’t have closets of shirts and dresser draws of sweaters. They may have two or lucky three different pieces of clothing. One to wear for a bunch of days, and then another to wear, while the first is getting washed and dried.

But even when you don’t have gobs and gobs of stuff. Our problem can still be our materialism. Oh not the type we’re used to where some people get so connected to their stuff, so focused on getting stuff. The materialism that Jesus is dealing with is not this (clothes, jewelry), but this (skin, head and heart).

Obviously, a lot harder to rid ourselves. We can’t (just throw this away). And just a word here, there are people who are treated like they are disposable, and hear me out that is wrong. No body, no one is disposable.
In one sense, I think we are like the people who first heard Jesus’ words. Most of us, at least I think, aren’t subject to the typical symptoms of greed. Many of us are not loaded with treasures of gold, big bank accounts, and portfolios. I don’t know too many of us who if we got a million dollars would be hurt and upset that we didn’t get 2 million dollars.

I know I give a lot of illustrations about the good stuff that happens in our ministries, but it’s not always kingdom of God and chock full of blessings. As many of you know, we have our free clothing ministry. This is really needed with people who may have to move often, don’t have the money or the car, to move their stuff. Without the ability to transport their clothes and other stuff, it gets left and they have to start over. Or lots of people don’t have washers and dryers in their homes or apartments, and then also don’t have the coin or enough cash to wash their clothes regularly. So, what we do here is important.
It’s so important to some, in warm and cold will line up for literally hours before we open the doors. And, they will vocally guard their place in line, from the occasional person who wants to skip ahead. Some will even try to “work” the system to somehow jump ahead so they can get into the new clothes closet, if not first–pretty darn close. You don’t have to be rich to be focused on yourself.

So this is hard. Somehow we are to balance somewhere between abusive self-lessness and self-obsession. We value; each and everyone of us; and each and everyone out there. We are valuable.

Perhaps, going back to the children’s sermon, it’s the difference between tools and treasures. If you’ve ever seen or known a good cook, a carpenter, a hairstylist, barber, even someone who uses their computer. You will see someone who has tools and usually keeps them up, takes good care of them. Because good tools build great treasures.
I think that’s why Jesus did what he did. He ate with sinners, taught the people who came out to him, healed the sick, fed the hungry, offered forgiveness.

We, following his lead have built all these churches, hopefully we’ve remembered that these buildings are not the point of faith. These are not our treasures. These, this one too, is not a treasure. It’s a tool.

We ourselves well–folks I don’t hate to say it but we’re a bunch of tools. The good news for us today, is that we don’t have to focus on ourselves, our wants, our likes our dislikes. Following Jesus, being the church is not about what makes us comfortable. Following Jesus isn’t even about putting the church first. It’s about the kingdom, not our Kingdom, but our Father’s. The kingdom of God, or as Matthew because he’s such a good Jewish Christian, says the kingdom of heaven, which by the way isn’t about some other place way up in the skies. Jesus preached and proclaimed, the kingdom of heaven is near. It’s here.

As we move out of this room and downstairs, to lunch and meeting. I hope, pray, plead that these words of Jesus not stay here. But lead us downstairs, lead us in our conversations (not just today, but onward). Where is treasure? Are you focused on you? Is your heart focused on others? Is our heart, is our budget, is our building, our ministries focused on us or on God’s kingdom.

Share with you a story about the kingdom of heaven. I heard this from one of our members. One day, as she was driving a bit east of here, she saw a gentleman on the sidewalk and she recognized him. He had been with us for a couple of times at Community Night. Traffic stopped, and there she was looking at him, she saw the grocery bags sitting on her passenger seat. The traffic started moving ahead of her and she drove on, about a block or two later she made a right turn, and then another right, and then another right. Circling back she returned to where the man was. She pulled over, spoke with him, reminded him that she had met him here at St. Paul’s, and then she gave him her groceries. She drove home with a bag of apples, and a few other things she was pretty sure that a man with a lifetime of no dental care couldn’t eat. It wasn’t convenient; her groceries would not miraculously reappear (in her busy schedule, she’d have to go back) it wasn’t comfortable stopping what she was doing, talking to some guy on the street–. BUT it was giving daily bread; it was the kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. She will get no trophy, title, or treasure, but her heart was in the right place, with Jesus. Amen.

A Latino, a black teen, and a white woman walk

You might be expecting me to continue with “walk into a bar”, but this is no joke.

Today the three of us (I’m the white woman), walked into a snow pile in a parking lot on the corner of S. 27th St. and National Ave in Milwaukee. I was the first to go in because I saw the man as I sat in my warm van waiting for the traffic light to turn green so I could hurry home, eat my lunch, and get on with all the stuff of my ministry and my life.

But I saw an older man kneeling in the snow. I first noticed he was kind of talking to himself and he had no gloves on. Now, I see a lot of people doing different (some might say odd things) in my neighborhood. My first instinct, no joke, was to look away. I am hungry and when I get hungry sometimes I get cranky, and I had a lot on my to do list today.

But when the light turned, so did I. I parked my van and walked into the snow bank to see if he needed help. Of course he did. He couldn’t get up, and as strong as I am I couldn’t get either. I turned around to see if I could call to any of the people who always seem to be on that busy corner. But they had already seen us and the Latino man and the black teen were already climbing over the snow. It took three of us to get the man to stand up. He wasn’t steady on his feet so we walked him over to the bus stop where he sat on the chair to wait for the next bus.

This is why I live where I do. People helping one another. We like to think that’s only small town mentality, but I’ve seen it so many times. I like to live in a place where a Latino, a black teen, and a white woman isn’t the start to some bad news story or a joke.

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.

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