The pie in the sky is rotten – sermon for March 26, 2017Lazarus and the Rich Man – Luke 16.19-31

I wonder, what kind of pie? What kind of pie was Lazarus enjoying in heaven? I know I would like one piece of apple pie, coconut cream pie, chocolate pie, and oh a piece of pecan pie. Umm. That’s my idea of pie in the sky. Isn’t that what we see in this story Jesus tells? Lazarus suffers in this life here on earth, but don’t worry he’ll be taken care of in the here after.
Chorus

 You will eat, bye and bye

In that glorious land above the sky 

Work and pray, live on hay 

You’ll get pie in the sky when you die

I didn’t write those words. The origin of “Pie in the sky” is from a song written in 1911 by the labor activist Joe Hill. The song is entitled, “The Preacher and the Slave” which was in part a parody and a criticism of the Salvation Army hymn “In the Sweet Bye and Bye”. It begins:

 Long-haired preachers come out every night 

 Try to tell you what’s wrong and what’s right

But when asked how ’bout something to eat 

They will answer in voices so sweet
Chorus

 You will eat, bye and bye

In that glorious land above the sky 

Work and pray, live on hay 

You’ll get pie in the sky when you die

And the Starvation Army, they play 

And they sing and they clap and they pray 

 Till they get all your coin on the drum 

 Then they tell you when you’re on the bum
 Holy Rollers and Jumpers come out 

 And they holler, they jump and they shout 

 Give your money to Jesus, they say     

 He will cure all diseases today
Chorus

 You will eat, bye and bye

In that glorious land above the sky 

Work and pray, live on hay 

You’ll get pie in the sky when you die

The song goes on with a couple more verses. You get the idea. This wasn’t the only protest song Joe Hill wrote as a leader of the labor movement. And, as I hope is clear this promise “pie in the sky” should leave a real bad taste in our mouths, for two reasons. First of all, if the story of Lazarus and the rich man is a description of God’s plan, a description of how heaven works, and if Lazarus and those like him have pie in the sky waiting for them, if those who suffer and starve well then the rich, the ones with plenty to eat, those who can sit at a table at Starbucks with a coffee and scone while someone else is begging for coins, if we can stroll through our choice of Sendiks or metro market, Whole Foods, Trader Joes and pick out whatever meets our fancy, while others stand in lines at soup kitchens, and pantry, or worse yet starve in drought ridden and conflict riddled south Sudan and other parts of Africa—doesn’t that mean our “goose is cooked”. Considered that way, this whole pie in the sky theology tastes pretty darn rotten to me.
Oh sure, we can justify ourselves, we’ll do what we can: we are nice people, we are the kind of people who will advocate for meals on wheels and school lunches, foreign aid, WIC. Hey, we have pantry here in our basement, and some of us work long hard hours there, we give money and time. We make donations. How do we feel as we drive past the men and women by the side of the road with their signs? Do you still feel overwhelmed or a bit guilty when you see the face of Lazarus, see those who hunger, who are mentally ill, who live on the streets?
Even with the promise of pie in the bosom Abraham, this story isn’t warm or fuzzy. Someone, everyone suffers. And no one likes to hear that. Especially the Pharisees who, as Luke tells us just a few verses before this story, loved money, this story, this teaching—Jesus is talking to the Pharisees, and they didn’t like it one bit. Of course neither did the businessmen, the politicians, the police, the establishment, the industrialists, the government like Joe Hill. Joe Hill, who by the way was an immigrant from Sweden, within 5 years of writing this song Joe Hill was arrested and may have been wrongly convicted of murder, and then he was executed by firing squad by the state of Utah.
Sound familiar? I hope it does, for the last weeks we’ve been hearing from Jesus that the religious leaders, the lovers of money, would conspire with the empire, and that Jesus would be arrested, wrongly convicted (for Jesus his conviction was of insurrection), and executed. Now, I just said Jesus was wrongly convicted. He wasn’t planning to overthrow the Romans. Or better said: he wasn’t planning to overthrow just the Roman occupiers. I think he actually was a revolutionary, a rebel, and insurrectionist working to overthrow all empire: all oppressors. Because what Jesus is really telling us in this story of the rich man and Lazarus is that this whole pie in the sky thing isn’t God’s recipe. That’s not how God wants this world to work.  

But the empire, or industrialists, or capitalists, or the rich, or the plutocracy, whatever you want to call it doesn’t want to hear that, doesn’t want us to preach that, doesn’t want us to sing about that, and evil will do whatever it can to quiet us down, and so that we don’t work for that piece of the pie in the here and now.  
It occurred to me this week, that if the church is kept so busy feeding the hordes of people made hungry form the latest proposed budget, maybe we will be too busy to question the system, to work to end inequality, to overturn a system designed by the very few haves which feeds on the lives of the have-nots. Let me tell you, Jesus doesn’t want, and didn’t die for another church food-pantry. 
What is good news in these words of Jesus for us today, is that Jesus isn’t merely concerned with souls in heaven. He isn’t just trying to save us from some hell in the hereafter. Jesus is all about the hell we make in the here and now. So first of all, let’s be clear that is the hell we should be concerned about. The one people are suffering right now in this world of violence and inequality, hatred and fear. And this hell, it’s not God’s idea. It’s all on us.
God has a different vision. One where there frankly is no room for hell. The song of God that Jesus sings, preaches, and lives is the vision of a world where all God’s children have enough, where no one is tossed outside the gate or stands by or sleeps under the bridge while rich drive over. Instead of drones dropping bombs, instead of food programs, development, addiction treatment, education cuts, Jesus is in tune with God’s grander vision for this world, right now. Jesus has a grander vision of Lazarus and the rich man sitting at a table cutting into, sharing, and eating that pie together today. Amen.

Attack of the Giant Chicken!  (just kidding). Sermon for March 12, 2017

Text: Luke 13:1-9, 31-35

1 At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4 Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.” 6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7 So he said to the gardener, “See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ 8 He replied, “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’ ”

31 At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32 He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33 Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ 34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’ 
Attack of the Giant Leeches.      

ARGH! Giant Chicken!

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

Attack of the 50 Ft Woman

Attack of the crab monsters

The Fly,

The Giant Gila Monster

The Killer Shrews

and of course, yet another King Kong movie came out this week. Those are some 1950’s sci-fi movies of attacking animals (with a fruit/vegetable tossed in there). That list doesn’t include things the Blob, Godzilla, and the space aliens and then the regular sized attacking sharks, pirañas snakes, spiders, and birds, that according to Hollywood have threatened the world as we know it. However, no killer chickens. No Attacking hens.
I guess Hollywood just doesn’t get how threatening a chicken can be. Not so, the pharisees, the religious leaders, Herod, or Pilate and the Romans for that matter. Of course, when they look at Jesus, when they heard about him, they didn’t think chicken. That’s just how he describes the divine love for humanity—in terms of a chicken gathering her little ones under her wings. No flapping wings and pecking beak. So, if it wasn’t the image of a chicken that threatened and scared them, it had to be something else. Because yet again, Jesus tells his disciples/his followers that he is going Jerusalem to die, actually be killed in Jerusalem, and it’s not like some blast of radiation is going to turn him into a giant mutant. But make no mistake, he is a threat. Oh, we don’t necessarily see, we may not hear it in these verses assigned for today. It’s more what is unsaid.  
Our gospel begins with the words, “at that very time”. What very time? Well, Jesus has been making his way to Jerusalem, but he’s not going alone. In fact, he’s not even just with a few disciples. Luke has told us there were crowds coming out to him. In the previous chapter, Luke writes that thousands of people— “thousands so that they trampled on one another” were coming to Jesus. Sounds like Jesus is doing a really good job of gathering people. We know later from our reading this morning, that Jesus wants the same thing for the people of Jerusalem. Could that be what attracts the attention of the authorities? The Romans really do not care how many people Jesus heals, even if it’s on a sabbath. 
But gathering crowds, that’s like rallies and marches. Mobilizing people is power, and can be threatening.   
Of course, we know that Jesus doesn’t describe himself as a wolf with his pack or a even a lion leading his pride. Jesus isn’t collecting swords and spears; he isn’t arming the people with weapons of war. He describes himself as a hen gathering her chicks. Still, we can’t underestimate the threat of people coming together. See, the world, the Romans, the powers that be don’t want to see that. They want to keep us apart. They don’t want us mingling together. You know why? Because when we don’t get together it’s easier to instill fear in us. Keep us apart, keeps us ignorant, and then we’ll believe all sorts of stuff. When we do not meet with one another, when we do not listen to one another, when we don’t listen to one another, we might believe it when someone says: “Just like Jesus said, ‘The poor will always be with us,’” “There is a group of people that just don’t want health care and aren’t going to take care of themselves.” “Just, like, homeless people. … I think just morally, spiritually, socially, [some people] just don’t want health care,” and “The Medicaid population, which is [on] a free credit card, as a group, do probably the least preventive medicine and taking care of themselves and eating healthy and exercising. And I’m not judging, I’m just saying socially that’s where they are. So there’s a group of people that even with unlimited access to health care are only going to use the emergency room when their arm is chopped off or when their pneumonia is so bad they get brought [into] the ER.” Those are the words of Kansas representative Roger Marshall. It’s bad enough he said that, but it’s worse that so many people will believe it because they haven’t spent real time with people, with people living in poverty—people who do not have easy access (location or ability to pay for) fresh fruits, who can’t afford gym memberships, and don’t have safe streets or parks to walk in. Who spend hours of their life waiting for buses. Who buy cell phones because it’s cheaper than a landline, and it’s the way we communicate these days. Who do want health care, would love to go to a doctor, take their children to a doctor, and not have to sit in emergency waiting rooms.

    We can know this, because Jesus gathers us together, and that is a threat. You know, Jesus’ talk about repentance doesn’t have to focus on the individual. I imagine that if Rep. Marshall spent some good quality time, lived with people in poverty, with the hard-working poor, he just might have a real come to Jesus moment. And that my friends, to the powers that be and want it to stay that way, can be awfully threatening because he doesn’t let the worldview stand—a world view that is simple, and for some comforting. You know, if you can look at tragedies and make sense out of them by assigning blame and pointing fingers, well that’s a real simple formula. God sends misfortune to punish. That can actually comfort some people. But that’s not how it works, says Jesus. It’s not a simple formula. God doesn’t strike us down, God doesn’t play tit or tat. Nope, Jesus says, we can’t ease our minds and make ourselves feel better. The world wants us to think we are in this by and for ourselves. It wants us lonely and hurting, at each others throats. Jesus threatens that world by The only peace we get comes from gathering with others around our savior. Jesus yearns to pull us close to one another so that we can know one another—truly know. Know our pains, know our joys, support, care, and hold one another. Jesus offers us a different peace and a place with God for all, let me say that again, for all of us, no exceptions, all together under her wings. Amen.

 

 “You’re not you when you’re hungry.” sermon for 1st Sunday in Lent

Luke 10:25-42
25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” 29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” 38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Me: I can’t find it. I get here early, I try to get things organized, and nothing works. I don’t even know why I try. It’s as if I should just show up and wing everything. I don’t even know why I try to be organized.
L: Pastor, eat this. (Handing me a snickers bar)
Me: A snickers?
L: You’re not you, when you’re hungry — eat a snickers, “Better”?
Maybe that was Martha’s problem. Maybe she was just hangry. You know—hangry, the combination of hungry and angry, describing how irritable some people get. So instead of preaching sermon, after sermon, about Martha being distracted and and self absorbed. How Martha serves as an example of a judgmental goody-goody. When all she could have been was simply hangry. After doing exactly what she was supposed to do. Martha had invited Jesus and his people, his disciples, the people who were following him, invited them into her home. This wasn’t just some casual, hey you want to come over for some coffee. Hospitality, caring for strangers, taking care of travelers is central to who the people of God are. I do not think it is a mere coincidence that we hear about Martha immediately after the parable of the samaritan neighbor. 
Martha is doing exactly what she is supposed to. Opening her home, sharing her food, her bread with Jesus and his fellow travelers. And you know what? Sometimes doing what we are supposed to do can feel, can be overwhelming. It is stressful, a lot of times it is doing the humdrum, mundane, daily routine. It often goes unrecognized and unrewarded, and the tasks seem unending, and the challenges daunting. Maybe Martha was really really hungry for just a little support, you know maybe someone to just help with the dishes, with a little clean up, before everybody sits down to listen to Jesus. Maybe Martha is feeling disrespected and taken advantage of. Whatever it is Martha is hungering for something. I think we, perhaps at least some of us can really relate to Martha. Today as the church, we are tasked with meeting the not only the needs of our people. We need too need to be fed. Our spirits need to be nourished; we need to continually learn and grow in our faith, we need to be taught. But the church can not just be focused on ourselves. We must to try to connect with the people who don’t come to church—to get a taste of what God’s Spirit is up to out there. And then of course, there’s the justice work that is more and more pressing with every passing day. With all that, I know that I have asked, prayed, no I have cried out, sworn, “Lord do you not care?”.  
We need something more meaty (I don’t know what vegetarians say), substantial.

not just a quick sugary sappy platitudes. So, no mere candy bar, no matter how tasty or satisfying, will fix—will do.  
And so, remember this Jesus doesn’t denigrate or bad mouth Martha, just as Jesus doesn’t simply dismiss the religious lawyer. Jesus invites Martha, invites us to sit, together, regularly to sit and be fed. And no, I don’t have some secret stash of snickers to share. Because the nougat, peanuts, caramel, and even chocolate, no matter how tasty, will not satisfy the hunger in our souls. We need to be fed with the Word of God, in the scripture, in the words of the liturgy, in the words of forgiveness. In the singing of our songs, and the music of our choir and Diane our spirits can be fed. So Jesus invites us to sit and listen, and Jesus invites us to share our stories, and Jesus invites us to eat, to be fed.
Every week, we are gathered around this table, and like most family tables we eat together. We don’t just happen to sit next to one another, but we share the same meal.   

In a story posted on NPR’s show the Hidden Brain, Shankar Vedantam reports on an amazing thing that happens when we eat together. But it isn’t just like at some restaurant or buffet. Researcher AYELET FISHBACH: I think that food really connects people. Food is about bringing something into the body. And to eat the same food suggests that we are both willing to bring the same thing into our bodies. People just feel closer to people who are eating the same food as they do. And then trust, cooperation, these are just consequences of feeling close to someone. In some experiments, eating the same thing together enabled groups of people to come to agreement almost 2x faster than groups that were eating different foods.
Jesus invites Martha, Jesus invites us, to sit down, to have her physical hunger met, to have her spiritual, and emotional hunger filled. It is no wonder that the church has gathered around the table to not just symbolically eat, but literally eat with one another. To hear not just for ourselves, but for all those around us. You can be the you, you are meant to be. Hear, feel, taste the love of God when we eat the bread and hear the words, The body of Christ given, broken for you—and you can be, you are you, when you are loved. Amen.