Cat People – Sermon for Sept. 8, 2019, Luke 14:25-33

Some say there are two types of people. Well, I’ll tell you what.  I bet that by just looking at you, I can tell what kind of person you are.  Now, I know many of us know each other, and some better than others, but let’s give this a try.

going and standing in front of several (including “dog people”) point and say “cat people, cat people, cat people”.

Now of course, before some of you start to argue with me. My determination has nothing to do with your pets; it has nothing to do with even liking cats, or whether you have had or own a cat.  I actually prefer dogs, but I have a cat. Or to put it more accurately from the feline cat perspective, I am allowed to to be my Dilly cat’s kitty chef, kitty sewage engineer, even occasionally Dilly’s kitty masseuse, in other words, I’m allowed to live with that cat.Did you how I said that? If you know anything at all about cats is that they have their own anthem, the song of their people is, “You don’t own me.  — so don’t tell me what to do, and don’t tell me what to say, cuz you own me.”

And that’s why I actually think there’s only one kind of people, cat people. Because, history, time and time again, we’ve seen that like cats people don’t want to be owned.  I know, I  want to be able to do, and go, and think and say what we want. We are the captains of own ships, molders of our own identities, proud, free individuals, you know — cats.

But that’s not what we hear in our scriptures for today.  That is not the good news according to Jesus. Oh, you might not have heard it, after all, we like to stick with our own definition of good news. You know that part about God calling us by name, knowing us inside and out, the God who will stick with us through thick and thin, even when we get over our heads in deep water. We progressive christians really like the idea of an intimate spiritual connection.  And that’s certainly there, but so are words like “I have claimed you; you are mine.”  Let that sink in a moment.  Sit with that.

You know in ancient times, knowing someone’s name gave you some sort of power, control, claim over them.  So when Moses is standing there before the burning bush, Moses asks God “who shall I say sent me”. Moses wants the name of this God sending him to face not only face down pharaoh, but also lead his friends, family, and people out of Egypt.  God’s answer is YHWH — which isn’t a name at all but more like a phrase—“I am who I am” or “I will be who I will be”.  You see, Moses wants some authority, some power, and God’s not gonna give it to him. The exodus isn’t really about liberation and freedom, it’s really about just switching masters—pharaoh king of Egypt to God the king of creation. 

Now if you are anything like me, that doesn’t actually sit well with me.  I don’t like the idea of that one bit. I want to be able to sing “You don’t own me”.

But the thing is .  For God to be god, God better be more than just an idea—even a really really good one. 

You know, Jesus doesn’t say, “Hey guys, i go this cool about God”. No he says follow me, and oh BTW – a lot of people, I mean an awful lot, are not gonna think this is a good idea at all, because following me is not going to be easy; it’s gonna cost you.  No if you are gonna follow me, and well that’s what the church is—it’s the disciples/followers of Jesus, you are saying—ok God, you own me.  I’m gonna love who you say I should (even though I really really don’t want to—you know my enemies). 

Following Jesus, not just hearing God call us by name (you know kind of how cat’s do, they almost acknowledge your presences), following Jesus is actually listening and doing and that means giving up, oftentimes the ideas we have — ideas about ourselves and a lot of times ideas about God.

God, faith, church, whatever isn’t just a list of nice things, or even nice people, to do cool things with, like some of us were able to do—go on a sweet boat. 

Being the church isn’t even about talking about God, for God to be God who is real, who isn’t just a metaphor, an idea, or an ideal—isn’t just a way to pick up some pointers to make our lives easier or smoother. 

No if we are the church, we hear God call us by name, and we listen when God says, it’s gonna cost (and I’m not just talking money or time, but also life, and idea of life) and  we really listen when God says you know some of those things you hold real dear to you — there’s a piece of wood, a tree, why don’t you use your pretty little people claws climb up that wood, and hang that stuff up there—there’s probably some nails lying around.

Now let me tell you, this is a sermon that’s harder for me to hear than for me to give.  I like all my nice thoughts about God, all my nice God talk that fits my particular sensibilities, you know that fit into my peculiar feline brain, but if there’s something bigger or more than me out there—I’m gotta even give up my comfy God talk, my insistence that you don’t own me, and I’ve got to not only listen.  We’ve got to listen when our name is called, and we’ve got to wrap our heads, our hearts, our lives, something other than our own ego scratching poles, because it’s not just about our name, God’s got our number—God’s got a claim on us.  Amen.

It’s ok to talk to yourself, just don’t listen


Luke 12:13-21

13Someone in the crowd said to [Jesus,] “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.” 14But he said to him, “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15And he said to them, “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” 16Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ 18Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”





Why can’t we all just get along?

I don’t know about you, but I can easily imagine Jesus thinking and maybe even muttering this under his breath.

I can so picture this with my, as Dr. Wil Gaffney calls it, my sanctified imagination.  Maybe jesus was standing there, the crowd all around, and this guy comes making his wasy, perhaps pushing past all the others, maybe with an “excuse me”as he fishes past other, other men, women, children trying to get close to Jesus—this guy is a man with a mission. 

Jesus – tell my brother (most likely an older brother) to share with me the inheritance.  Tell him to give me my fair share.

That’s where I imagine my sub-scriptural, “why can’t we just all get along?”.

I don’t think you have to be a parent called in to tv, toy, snack mediation—to get tired of this kind of triangulation. It happens all the time, as Jesus, notes in just a moment—there’s all kinds of greed.  We are greedy for people to agree with us,  do what we want, give us what what we think is our due. 

But then he responds, — Jesus, Christ the King (who we the church have declared will come to judge the quick (ok – a lot of us aren’t so quick anymore, but we are alive) the living and the dead) and Jesus states:“Man, who set me a judge or a divider over you?” 

But before we quickly answer, “um, you did?”.  Let us perhaps not easily dismiss Jesus’ response, chalking it up to exhaustion/frustration, let’s actually listen and stay with Jesus’ question.

 Because perhaps there’s more going on here, than just a quick surface reading.

Maybe the answer is not —you Jesus, or God.  Maybe it’s us? You see, for some reason we prefer it when others do the heavy lifting, make the difficult decisions, others take responsibility.  

As a kid, I just wanted my mom to divide up all the goodies. I think I’ve shared with some of you before, how she taught us to share—and I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and suggest that she was just not deflecting or shirking her parental role—and that in her attempt to teach us to share, she also wanted us to take responsibility and.  My mother would give us say the cookie, the extra pierogi or the last of the ice cream and either my sister or I would be assigned the divider and the other the chooser. This gave both of us a role in the sharing and in the faring.

What if Jesus sees God’s world in somewhat the same way? Instead of a divine cake cuter slicing up resources, a holy hander outerer— giving big and “biggerer” pieces to some.  Jesus is giving us a different picture of God, because if we believe that God is up there dishing out intelligence, wealth, etc. —- I don’t know all that stuff we like to call blessings. a than doesn’t that kind of mean or follow (you know logically) implying that God is shorting others—  Causing divisions. 

Now sit with that a minute.  

Now of course, that works for some people—especially those  who wanted to believe that there’s only so much good stuff in the world (limited good) so God gives some people more, you know because they know how to manage God’s good resources, and others just aren’t capable.  That was a favorite Christian defense of slavery and colonialism. Because Africans were inferior (able to enslave and then a more modern version of course not able to appreciate and utilize all the natural resources of that continent—the gold, diamond, minerals, the stuff that goes into our cell phones—according to that “christian” idea, apparently, God’s the great big racist in the sky.

I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sit well with me.  And while you can find some places in the bible where it says that the righteous are rewarded with wealth and success, that’s not what we see in the gospels or how the first followers of Jesus.

No, in the gospels the division between haves and have-nots is the result of sin/greed and as Gwen points out in this liturgy—a sense of scarcity.

When the bible is clear—God creates this world with everything we need for everyone—that’s what we believe. And I think the good news that Jesus about, can be found/heard in that question and in his story is— the land fertile, the weather was favorable and the crops grew and grew. It was the land, and maybe even his neighbors land, or the farm he bought, you know when the neighbor ran into some tough times—the whole land was productive.

So the owner thinks (mistakenly) that he’s earned all that food for himself—he’s greedy (not just for money) he’s greedy for himself (his estimation of his self— you know he earned it, deserves it), Greedy for security that big ol barns represent. This man has cut himself off from all those around him. His self-centeredness and greed let’s him even divide his thinking and speech. He thinks he’s so important—his head has gotten so big, Not only is he talking to himself—he’s apparently just listening to himself.  His greed has not “literally”, but practically for all intents and purposes cut him divided him.  

And again, as Jesus says—that’s all on us. 

But you know what that means.  It means we can do something about it.  If the divisions in our world are not divinely decreed with the only remedy up to a feeling of generosity or pity, that means we can actually do something. 

And that’s why Jesus had crowds following him around. Jesus gives us hope—and hope doesn’t disappoint.  Jesus isn’t preaching some big piece of heavenly pie in the sky. He is saying God’s kingdom—God’s world—way is “near”. It’s here. Long before people started using words like socialists or communists, Jesus was talking about turning this broken world upside down—an equalization — the rich becoming poor, the poor becoming rich—first and last switching places.  Now if that doesn’t sound like good news, you might want to ask why, and you might want to ask someone who doesn’t sound, live, or look like yourself.

The thing is it’s not just the result that is good news.  It’s that we actually get to do this.  The early church did it, and they grew like all get out. People would seriously die for a faith like this—the faith that says God gives all of this amazing world as a gift to absolutely all of us—and God wants, thinks we are responsible enough to even put us in charge of putting it right—not according to this world, but to God’s world—God’s kingdom come, where we all work together, everyone gets their daily bread, we all get enough, to all get along. Amen.

“The Rain in Spain ….” Sermon for the 2nd Sunday in Advent -2018

Dec 9, 2018

“The rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain”.

Eliza Doolittle, from “My Fair Lady” may be refined. But let me be honest, I ain’t. Don’t get me wrong, I hope that I know enough manners to not get kicked out of, or at least, not stared at when I’m at a fine restaurant. I know the fork goes on the left, but don’t get me started about what is that plate is called, the bigger plate placed under the littler plate, but plate that isn’t used for eating.

That’s what I associate with being refined—a word that we heard in that reading from Malachi. I know, Malachi is not talking about etiquette; instead a refiner’s fire. But isn’t it the same thing? The hard work of a refiner is to heat the metal to shape, form, and mold the metal and burn away impurities, and in Eliza Doolittle (and other-makeover stories) show us it’s hard to burn away accents, habits, and the way we are used to living to act refined. I think it’s no coincidence the same word is used.

Of course, and this is a point I shared at one of our Monday night Sacred Roots experiences, being refined is actually very relative. The rules of etiquette are cultural and differ by context. There is nothing inherently evil with having your elbows on the table or eating with your hands. One way is not empirically superior than another or more pure than another—that’s elitist—judging others by your own standards, rules, or traditions. And, if we’re honest, none of us like that.

I think that’s why I was so interested to learn that in our second reading, in the letter to Philippians, in verse 10. Where we read, “so that in the day of Christ you maybe be pure and blameless”. that a different and really more accurate translation of the word “

eilikrineis – which we just heard translated as “pure” — is better or also translated as “sincere” — it might be nuance, but I think its not inconsequential—the difference — pure (as in perfect) verses not deceitful, honest.

Perhaps what I Paul saying is that he is hoping we can be honest before the Lord and before others—not pretending to be all pure and perfect.

Take Donald Trump (I know I mentioned him last week, but he really is an easy sermonic illustration—and I mean that because he’s just so out there, and a reference that most of us know as opposed to how I began the sermon with that line from My Fair Lady (that only connects with when we are honest a small portion of the population who go to the theater and I mean regularly not just to see Hamilton). However, Donald Trump isn’t just a great sermon illustration because he is always the example of what not to do. Sometimes he gets it right. Take this week at the state funeral for the first president Bush. A lot of stink was made when pictures where published of the service and the Trumps are just standing there—not singing hymns and not reciting the Apostle’s Creed. I actually suggest we should give Donald some credit here, because this might be the most honest we see or hear him. Obviously, the faith that is expressed in those words means nothing to him. Which would your rather have, honesty or lip service? Sincerity or pretense?

I think this is what is at the heart of our faith, really. It doesn’t need to be about making ourselves perfect, acting all pure—because I don’t know about you, but for me that’s just acting. And I imagine it’s not just young people who look at the church and dismiss us for acting all holier than thou, when we’re not—for judging others, for not acting lovingly towards all—even (and especially one another)—for being more concerned about ourselves—appearance of love—for more lip-service to love than living it out.

Let us listen to John the Baptist, to the prophet Malachi, to Paul—to God’s Word, and hear instead of some call to purity and perfection, let’s start with a call to sincerity, because what gets in the way of the coming of the Lord in this world isn’t just our brokenness, but our fake holiness. The first step towards healing, is admitting we’re sick. And that is really really hard. That’s what burns. Isn’t that the first step in addiction? Admitting. Owning it. That’s the work we do to prepare the way. Think of it this way, the refiner has to see potential in the metal to put it in the fire of the refiner. And God sees that in us, not purity but potential. So with fire of God’s forgiveness— we’ll love, we will live love, we will feel love—for others, feel it in and for ourselves—and that is worth a lot more than just saying the right words—the rain in Spain stays mainly in the plain.

God’s love annoys the hell out of me

Sermon July 15, 2018


1 John 4:7-21

7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. 15 God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 16 So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. 17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21 The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

Does the mountain climber get to the top by telling the peak to come down to her?

No, she practices, gets stronger, and climbs the mountain.

Does the runner get the medal by moving the finish line to the start?

No runners practice and train, and they get stronger and run the race.

Do scientists only ask questions for which they already know the answer?

No they use their discipline and intellectual strength to learn and to teach.

Does the explorer only travel well-worn paths?

No the strength of their curiosity compels them to discoveries.

Does God only love those who worship and love God?

No, the strength and power of God’s love is that it is given to all of us, all.

This morning we heard, and as Vickie highlighted with her bulletin cover, “We love because God first loved us”. From beginning to end in our bible, God loves us, especially when we don’t deserve it—from the story of the garden, man and woman. When they didn’t listen, when they did what God told them not to do, and ate from the tree, they could no longer stay in the garden. Did God turn God’s back and walk away from them; no, God protected them; she sewed clothing for them. In the stories of the patriarchs and matriarchs from Genesis — Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar, and the rest— all a broken and troubled family, a family riddled with deceit, slavery, abuse. But God promises to stick with Hagar (though a foreigner and a slave) and Ishmael her son. God doesn’t turn away from Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah and Rachel even though they and their family are riddled with deceit and abuse.

When the people of God become enslaved in Egypt, God doesn’t go searching for another more suitable, more self-sufficient people. God doesn’t look for those with more power or earning potential. God frees the slaves and tries to set up a whole new way, but slavery and domination and greed come naturally to us, seem ingrained in us. In the book of Judges (which is a great read by the way) the refrain is, “and again the people did what was evil in the sight of the Lord”, each one doing their own thing, and the result. The result was the fragmentation and division, a weakened people an easy target. And God kept raising up Judges, men and women to lead the people, to guide them to turn back to God, over and over again —judges and prophets like: Samson and Deborah. Until the people cried out for a king. They wanted a strong man, a dynasty; they wanted to make themselves “great again”. So they turned away again, but God doesn’t back down or give up. Even when the kings and queens focused on themselves (a “I told you so moment for God”), God persists, raising up prophets to call the king and people back to justice. The strength of God’s love evident in its persistence.

Even to the point of incarnating Divine Love in the life of Jesus, and the rulers and the powerful, the empire executed him.

God crucified because of love—a love that would not give-in and weaken, would not resort to violence—God’s love persists.

That’s really the point. We are naturally self-centered; seeking our own comfort, security, and survival, and nevertheless God persists and loves. God’s love trying to annoy the hell right out of us.

That’s what our scripture is pushing and prodding, repeating over and over again. Abide in love; God is love; love, love, love. But this isn’t—that hallmark, valentines, mushy—family, romantic love—Caring for the nice, the agreeable, the familiar, those who make us feel comfortable—caring for those who are like us, who we like. You know what that’s called—that’s liking someone. Where’s the challenge in that? The people we like may be mildly irritating sometimes, how does loving them stretch us, make us stronger? I have often said, “I or we are not called to like you but I am called to love you, and that is love is not exclusive to the church. We don’t just love the people who gather her regularly or irregularly. And that annoys the hell out of me.

Just yesterday morning, I was out nice and early for a run, doing my regular route. About a 1.5 miles into it, I was running northbound on the 16th St. Groppi memorial bridge, and suddenly I feel I am sprayed with liquid. Now, notice I didn’t say it was water, because it wasn’t just that. It was big street puddle water, you know that mixture rain, oil, dirt, etc. and so forth. You see someone had driven their car through the puddle, and since that was the only car near me, and they then switched to the other lane afterwards, I assumed that it was intentional—that they had seen me running on the sidewalk and purposefully driven through the puddle along the curb. My first instinct, and what I did (I’ll be honest) was to say something, that I shouldn’t repeat in my sermon.

But as I kept running, exercising my legs, lungs, and heart it occurred to me that I could use that moment, that experience to exercise my spirit. And I realized that anger and my condemnation of him could be converted to compassion. I don’t know why the driver did it, but what I did realize is if their intention was to annoy me. I didn’t need to let it. I am in control of me, and I can be compassionate for a person who just might have been unaware, and I can be compassionate for a person who gets their jollies from spraying pedestrians. You see, it was the love of God that annoyed the hell (the negativity) right out of me.

Now I admit, in the whole scope of everything that was a pretty petty and insignificant event, but it is these mundane and routine interactions that help us practice and strengthen God’s love in us. Because I want to be completely clear, love does not erase anger, love does not erase hurt and pain. Abiding in God’s love is about compassion which is conversion; change; and courage. God’s love isn’t meant to turn us into a bunch of doormats for the world to walk all over. Overt-racism, nationalism, abuse of people, the environment, lies, hatred, and greed seem/feel like they’ve reached an all time high/or low. God is not alright with that. God’s loving all of us, doesn’t mean it’s okey dokey.

Remember what we heard earlier today. Love is bold; it conquers fear; it is about engagement. God’s love doesn’t tell us to be quiet or even civil at all times—especially in the face of violence, injustice, and oppression. Ignoring and avoiding is truly living in sin; living in fear. Listening to the abused, and speaking with the hurt is living in love. We are not called to be complicit, but called to be compassionate. Basically, we are called to annoy the hell out of this world with God’s love. Amen.

Science and faith agree: we are not the center of the universe.

June 17, 2018

I have good news, and I have bad news for you today. Which would you like to hear first?

You are not the center of the universe.

You are not the center of the universe.

Of this both science and religion agree.

However, it hasn’t always been that way.

We used to think we were literally center of the universe and that the sun and everything rotated around us. That’s what we thought, that’s what the church thought the bible taught. Of course, some people disagreed; a few ancient Greek philosophers figured out that we weren’t the center of the universe. But it wasn’t until Copernicus in about 1543 that the idea started to gain some traction. Hopefully, you learned in school that the church (Roman Catholic Church) did not accept new fangled math and science and in deed tried Gaileo Galilei in 1633. His heresy was for suggesting that the earth was not the center of the universe, and that the earth revolved around the sun. Unlike others charged with heresy, Galileo was not burned at the stake, but died in 1642 while serving his life sentence of house arrest. 1992 the Roman Catholic Church under the leadership of Pope John Paul II, investigated the case against Galileo and acquitted him, that’s just about 25 years, if you do the math.

So, now we can agree we are not the center of the universe. Of course, science has gone so much beyond that revelation with telescopes that can peer deep into space and time. With calculations and measurements that tell us that the universe is billions and billions of years old, that the universe is expanding, that dark matter actually makes up a majority (about 96% of the stuff) of the universe. Science, if not in our schools (especially some of our charter private schools may give a different picture) scientific knowledge and theory is awesome. That is, unless you fear these theories, worrying that these discoveries explain God out of the picture, that God as godself, the divine one may also not be the center of the universe.

And if you think that the bible is a history and scientific text book filled with infallible divine information, that fear may feel very real. However, that is not what we teach. I feel like I can never say/preach/proclaim this enough. The bible is not infallible; it does not teach history or science. The earth is more than several thousand years old. Humans like our planet have evolved over time. This knowledge does not threaten faith or belief in God. Science seeks to unravel, to plumb to solve the mysteries of reality.

The cosmic perspective of science, however, reveals that with every discovery, with every mystery solved new ones appear. With every question answered new questions arise. It is for that reason that Neil deGrasse Tyson admits that in his exploration of the cosmos as an astrophysicist he feels humbled, he feels in awe, he feels what so many people of faith describe as a “religious” experience. However for him this is not God. Tyson has said, “

If God is the mystery of the universe, these mysteries, we’re tackling these mysteries one by one. If you’re going to stay religious at the end of the conversation, God has to mean more to you than just where science has yet to tread. So to the person who says, “Maybe dark matter is God,” if the only reason why you’re saying it is because it’s a mystery, then get ready to have that undone.

Let’s think about it this way, through the advances of science, Job could and may soon be able to say to God. Why yes, with our space telescopes, with our super computers, with our spectrometers, technology, why yes God we weren’t there when you flung the suns and stars, when you began creation, but we can still see it today. We can look back, and we can measure particles and the space between them. We can see galaxies and black holes. Not only that, without loosing our faith we know we are not the center of the universe, and hypothesize that we are just one of many in a multi-verse.

We can use the bright immensities and complexities as language within our faith, but they can not be the basis of our faith. Or as Galileo purportedly said, faith, religion, spirituality, God is about how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.

A cosmic scientific perspective can humble us and fill us with awe, but faith gifts us with the cosmic perspective of love. Of course, we may not see love at play in the atmosphere; we may not see love at work in the geological forces causing eruptions in Hawaii and Guatemala. It is hard, I would even see impossible to see love at work in the survival of the fittest. And contrary to members of this administration, may think, their words, their policy of separating and warehousing children from away from parents is more contradictory to the God we read in the bible than modern science, or evolution. Caging children whether in warehouses or in underfunded schools, poverty and prisons contradicts and threatens faith; using the bible to justify abuse and to prop up illegitimate policies and practices does.

Science with it’s cosmic perspective has and will continue to tell us we are not the center of the universe. Faith in it’s best form, love, inspires us to put others (especially the weak, the struggling, the oppressed). We pray for those who have been preyed upon. We partner with the persecuted. God’s cosmic perspective pushes us to a humility that bends not just before exploding super novas but also bends before refugees, bends to hold the hand of the sick and dying, bends to listen to those like Job grieving, angry, and lonely. The bible, the church, Jesus/God’s cosmic perspective is not obedience to injustice; it is not quietism in the face of danger; Our cosmic perspective is love—divine love that defies the laws of nature, the laws of nations and governments, even the laws of religiosity. The good news is we are not the center of the universe, love is. Amen.

You shall not covet

June 10, 2018

There’s a lot of things I want. There are a lot of things I want to be good at. I wish I could play the guitar better; I wish I could run faster; and as a pastor and leader, I am really envious of those who seem to always have the right words. That’s just a few of my wants, my desires. But, I shouldn’t get too down on my self, on one of our many family amusement parks trips like the one we just got back from, I discovered that I excel at one thing in particular. I am an excellent line jumper. You know what that is right? It’s when you are so bored and tired of standing in lines, that you jump.

Now just in case you don’t know how to do it, let me show you. I need a few volunteers — demonstrate jumping in line (which is standing in line and just jumping up and down).

Oh, you thought I meant the other type of line jumping, cutting in line. That wouldn’t make me a good pastor or Christian for that matter. No I would never jump in front of others; I’d never cut in line. Because lines serve a purpose, keeping things running smoothly; our place secured and established by time and not by size, force, or might. The line is kind of like an equalizer, leveling and organizing the playing field, keeping things orderly and safe.

That’s how the 10 commandments are often understood—as God’s gift to us, to keep us safe, lines not to be cut, lines not to be crossed, laws not be broken. Do not murder, check; do not steal, check; do not commit adultery, check.

Do not jump ahead in line, check. Unless .

Unless I have a fastpass. You see, Disney created this system called the fastpass. They established a way for certain people to make something like reservations. For certain rides you can pick a time to ride. You have one hour to use your fastpass to bypass the line, jump ahead of almost everyone else. Really when you think about it, the fastpass system is Disney’s sanctioned line jumping let’s me ride as many rides as possible, to not have to wait in line, to have as much fun as possible that’s what I really want.

Wishing and wanting, craving and coveting the last of the ten commandments. At first when I looked at the way these weeks were designed by this narrative lectionary, I didn’t understand why this single verse against coveting (which our version of the 10 commandments divides into the 9th and 10) why this warranted one whole Sunday.

But as I’ve looked into it, the question became not so much why this verse was given it’s own Sunday, but why it is there to begin with. After all, I don’t know of any other law codes that go beyond actions—to our hearts, minds, desires. I am not alone in wondering this. Ancient rabbi’s asked how the command against coveting fit with the rest. Some suggested that by prohibiting coveting was a way to, in a sense, build a fence, a line around the other commandments. If we don’t covet, we won’t steal. If we don’t covet we won’t murder. If we don’t covet, we won’t work ourselves to the bone. If we don’t covet, we won’t make won’t worship things or desire people. All it takes is controlling our cravings and disciplining our drives and desires. That’s if we can control our cravings and discipline our desires.

Is it possible to not want? Can we not covet? Martin Luther, way back in the 1500’s For him, this verse is included in the commandments because we can not keep it. And since we can not even keep the 10 commandments, we need forgiveness. For Luther this commandment goads us into God’s grace, because controlling our cravings and our coveting is beyond the power each person’s human heart.

But perhaps there’s another way—another way to read these words, another way to keep this commandment.

A way that remembers where the commandments come from. The story of the torah, of the law of the lines God draws for us, were first drawn for men and women fleeing oppression, refugees seeking safety, for slaves seeking freedom. First of all, we can and should never forget the context of these words. God gives them and us the promise of a land. But it’s not just pharaoh they are fleeing. Because just think about this for a moment, pharaoh didn’t pick up a whip, pharaoh didn’t beat the people into submission. But slaves lived and died to build building, to bake breads. But this is not God’s way. Perhaps God knows our hearts as well, and this commandment is included to try to keep us wanting things—homes and happiness, peace and prosperity—privilege paid for by the lives and deaths of others. You know, economic, political, education, institutions and systems can be set up to keep our hands from getting dirty, but still get us what we want. The promised Land of the torah (what we read in Exodus and Deuteronomy) is where debts are forgiven, where the poor, the widow, the orphan are not to be used and abused but to be taken care of, God is setting up a system that seeks the welfare of all, not just for the benefit of the few, the wealthy. That’s why the slave is not supposed to work on the sabbath, that’s why debts are forgiven, that’s why farmers are to intentionally leave crops in the field. It is no crime to want your fair share, especially your fair share for all, and that is what God draws with the commandments, lines for the land of promise, lines for the life together, lines for community of care, lines for us. Amen.

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.