Christ the King – no really!

I didn’t realize that the CBS show Undercover Boss was just about 3 years old now. While I haven’t watched too many episodes lately, I used watch it occasionally. If you are unfamiliar with it, it is a reality tv show which follows an company exec, a CEO or some such as they leave the comfort of their corner office, disguising themselves and go Undercover. Working alongside their employees, they see the effects their decisions have on others, (and as it described on the Undercover Boss’ website) where the problems lie within their organizations and get an up-close look at both the good and the bad while discovering the unsung heroes who make their companies run.
What I always enjoyed about this show was at the end, at the reveal when the CEO revealed himself or herself to the workers, both the good and the bad. As part of the revelation, the CEO would make changes, tweak company policy and procedures here or there, or reward a hardworking struggling employee or re-train, re-purpose, or fire a bad one. All because the boss had disguised himself or herself as one of the “little guys”.
Today, Christ the King Sunday almost seems like another one of these episodes of Undercover Boss. Take our Gospel story for this morning. These verses that I read just a few minutes ago are part of the bigger scene toward the end of Jesus’ life. He has been betrayed and abandoned by his own followers and arrested. His own religious leaders have handed him over to the occupying Roman powers and are accusing Jesus of rebellion, insurrection, and treason. Facing these charges, Jesus now stands before Pilate (the Roman governor of their region of Palestine).
Like an episode of Undercover Boss, we know who Jesus is. We know because the Gospel writer John has told us, this isn’t just an ordinary insurrectionist trouble-maker. This isn’t just another innocent man caught up in the system, this isn’t even the just the King of the Jews. Standing before Pilate (this Roman official), under arrest and in chains is the one who we will sing at the end of our time together this morning is the Lord of all nations, king of creation.
Watching Pilate, hearing his questions, we know the Truth. Pilate while he knows something is up won’t get the “reveal” that he’s expecting.

Crown of Thorns
Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial ShareAlike 3.0 License

There will be no last-minute pulling off the mask, the disguise to reveal Jesus in all his glory. No Jesus our King will suffer the humiliation, the pain, torture, wrongfull execution. That’s where the truth of who he is will shine forth, just as it has in all that he has been doing and saying. Jesus hasn’t been hiding who he is just to see what life is like for the little guy. It’s more than that.
It’s got to be more than that. People of faith, followers of Jesus, people who know Jesus haven’t done, and don’t do, and aren’t who they are for a sight-seeing savior. Remember that evil called apartheid. It was the political system used by a white minority to control and dominate the black Africans in the nation of South Africa. An Anglican priest—a pastor tells about how his small congregation only about the size of us, of St. Paul’s refused to obey their government because they obeyed Jesus, and they were arrested, not just the pastor who spent over a year in jail, but the entire congregation from a 90 year old elder to mothers’ with babies locked up in jail for following Jesus.
The truth that Jesus is talking about—the truth that Pilate is fumbling around and groping for, what Jesus is revealing is that we won’t see Jesus’ kingship in visions of heavenly splendor if we don’t see Jesus as he is on the cross—innocently suffering at the hands of political expediency. His reign and kingdom are revealed not with armies of soldiers, not in super sales and door-buster bargains, but with the poor, the sick, the widow, the orphan, not in princes of power, industry, business, not in acts of violence, but in the hands the hungry, in acts of mercy and forgiveness. That is our king. Amen.

Advertisements

Good Eats

Bread of Life, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=54927

It is said, we Lutherans will talk and share all about having a good time at a restaurant much more than we’ll talk about God or Jesus. In other words, we’d rather talk about food than faith. Well since that’s oftentimes the case, let me tell you. It was for an anniversary or some other special occasions. Brad and I made our reservation at a fine restaurant. We get dressed up, get there, are seated at the table, handed our menu, and then the server asks if we would like to start with a glass of wine. I said, “No thank you”. Well, let me tell you the meal went downhill from there. The server asked again if I wanted wine at least 2 or 3 more times. I believe I was pregnant at that time, but I didn’t feel like I needed to justify or defend my decision. Anyway, then when it came time to order, well my choices were let’s say not to the server’s standards. It was probably something like I wanted blue cheese dressing on my salad, and then an entrée with a cheese or crème sauce, and he promptly suggested I order something else—that that was too much cheese. Well, the food was excellent, but the meal was ruined.
We all know, there’s more to a meal than just filling our stomachs and consuming calories. We are hungry for more than just tasty treats. We sit down whether it’s around a table, in a both, or even on the floor like Jesus most likely did with his disciples. We need to feed more than just our bodies. Sometimes we’re hungry for a nice conversation, or maybe we just want some peace and quiet, maybe we’re hungry for family.
This is one of the strengths of Community Night. It’s not just a meal program. It’s not just to feed people. We are trying to build a community St. Paul’s, our neighbors. No matter how much money we have, we are all hungry. The same is true in today’s story from the Luke’s gospel. Now first of all when I read the gospel, if it felt to you like we started somewhere in the middle of something, you’re right. So far in the Easter Sundays we’ve heard from Mark, last week from John, and now from Luke. This story is part of all the events of that first Easter day. Jesus isn’t at the tomb, but he does show up and walk with 2 of the disciples (who don’t recognize him). They walk and talk all the way to the town of Emmaus, they then sit down, he takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it and whalaa they’re eyes are open and they know it’s him—it’s Jesus. He disappears, and these two run all the way back to Jerusalem to the rest of the disciples and are telling them about seeing Jesus, about walking with him, talking with him, about the bread, when Jesus appears and that brings us to the “Peace be with you” he greets his disciples with this morning.
The point is, Jesus is resurrected. He’s not a ghost. He’s got a body, but see it’s all brand new. It’s something so new, this resurrection thing, is so new we’ve never ever seen it before. The wounds are still there, but they don’t slow him down. In this story, Jesus eats some left-over cooked fish. Now it wasn’t that he was hungry from that long walk to Emmaus, and his return to Jerusalem. He’s eating because the disciples were hungry; they were hungering for something to make sense. They needed that meal to calm their fears, their confusion, to give them purpose and direction. That meal, even though it’s just a bite fish was more about the experience of love and forgiveness of Jesus than about the food.
So another memorable meal I’ve had was at a tiny restaurant in Rome. My husband and I were travelling, and we were using one of this guy Rick Steves’ guidebooks. And we were hungry we’d been running around Rome sightseeing all day, and in this guidebook Rick suggests a particular little restaurant. Well luckily we find it, through the door with our guidebook open in our hands. With that the owner, manager, server I don’t know, I don’t speak Italian, and his English wasn’t great—he greets us, grabs the book, closes it, gives it back to us and maneuvers us to a little table. There are people all around us. We are not handed a menu, but quickly brought something to drink, and then offered plate after plate of food. We looked around us watched in wonder as each table was served, it seemed not all the same things, it was like the people of the restaurant somehow knew just what was needed. One table with a couple ate just a few things and then moved on while others like us seemed to sit through course after course—the place was filled with smiles, laughter, and warmth. We were truly fed.
Much like today. You see this day is a very special day for us. Five of our children, young people will join us to receive their first communion. In so doing, they will take a bit of bread, taste a bit of wine. This will be new to them, but there’s so so much more here than just that first taste. This is for them and for us, a first course in a much bigger meal. It is a taste of the joy that will happen with the feast that will have no end. But until that time, because Jesus knows that his disciples are still hungry. We are still hungry, we are still hungry for welcome, hungry for forgiveness, and meaning, direction, and purpose. We are hungry for peace in our hearts, in our relationships, our families, our neighborhoods, our world. We are hungry for love.
So Jesus invites, calls, pulls to this table. Now I said just a moment ago that this is a special day for us, I said that very specifically—yes it is so important for these children but it’s also for us. For while, at this meal, we will not be completely filled, it will not magically remove all of our hunger, our questions, our pains. But we will be fed; we will be welcomed, and this meal will be deeper and better because we will see God in action in the lives of these young people, and together our eyes will be opened, and we will recognize that Jesus is here, among us, that we together are fed, forgiven, and loved—this is the meal we share. Amen

They shared everything — even the not-so-good parts

Acts 4:32-3532Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

There’s all sorts of reasons to avoid this passage from the Bible.  There’s all sorts of reasons to just pass it off and dismiss it as early church myth and post-Easter (Pentecost) fanaticism.  First of all, it goes completely against our modern individualism and phobia of anything that could be labeled socialism.
Now if that weren’t bad enough there’s a whole other reason to just blithely pass over these words.  The reason is that the disciples didn’t just empty out their proverbial pockets, but they emptied out their pains.  In order for the family of followers to know what needs to meet, they needed to know what needs existed. I guess that means the Easter resurrection faith ends the shame of pain, the shame of poverty, the shame of sadness, loneliness, pain, and doubts. If Jesus can show his wounds, why can’t we?

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Incredulity_of_Saint_Thomas_by_Caravaggio.jpg
Imagine a space–a place and time–where you can come and bring everything you have including the good, the bad, the ugly.  Where all sins can be confessed; where there can be repentance work; where joys, ideas, and dreams are expressed.  This is true welcome; this is true love; this is church; this is what it is to easter.

Just be honest, please!

Image
St. Louis courthouse where the Dred Scott case was first filed. The Dred Scott Decision of the US Supreme court declared that according to the Constitution no one of African descent (slave or free) was a citizen or had the rights of citizens. Picture taken from the St. Louis Arch, summer 2010

 

As stories of the tragic and sinful killing of yet another young black man are in the news, my mind turned again to the words I hear so often: “We’re a Christian nation.”

My question is when and how?

Surely we can not delude ourselves into thinking we are a Christian nation in our present reality.  With laws like Stand Your Ground, with the animosity and name-calling on the air-waves, with the lifting-up of wealth, how can we even think we’re close to being Christian?  We’ve substituted faith in Jesus who calls us to love one another for a reliance on guns and violence to solve our problems.

Some folks may assert that we’ve strayed from Christian past.  But that is a mythical and revisionist past.  We are a people who profited from slavery, visited death and destruction on the first peoples who lived here stealing their land.  That is our history; it is the truth.  I could also point to our Constitution and many, many words of the founders of our nation as evidence that this country did not have an established religion.

It seems if we are Christian at all, it is not in our societal actions, our history but in word only.  Jesus had a word for those who claimed to be one thing and lived another way–hypocrites.  Hypocrites (and the wealthy which I confess I am) received words of warning and condemnation from Jesus.

In order for us to claim we live in a Christian nation, this country would look far different and I am not talking about women sporting long skirts and long hair–wealth would be shared, immigrants would be truly welcomed (no one would be labeled “illegal”), our military (both government and corporate) would be disbanded.  That’s the truth–that’s what it looks like to follow Jesus.  It’s in the bible.  Honest.

Running on Empty – a meditation on Easter

The other day as I was driving I glanced down and saw that I was almost at “E”. Of course, “E” stands for empty as in empty gas tank. Usually this would be only a slight annoyance, but these days with prices well over $4.00 it’s a different matter. “E” is for “empty”, and I don’t want to be running around on empty. Think of empty wallets, empty refrigerators and pantries, empty playgrounds and pews, empty homes, empty arms and empty hearts. Emptiness brings disappointment.

I’m sure that was at least one of the emotions felt by the women and the disciples on that first Easter morning. Their hearts were empty as they walked to the tomb that early morning. Their beloved Lord had been taken from them—their hopes and dreams now rang hollow. But at the EMPTY tomb it all changed. The emptiness wasn’t within them, but in front of them. This emptiness didn’t sap their strength, but propelled them to move, to go, to tell. God had taken the reality of death and turned it inside out.

Evil and the powers of death seek to fill our lives with diversions, excuses and fears. Filling us with empty calories, empty promises. God takes us in a whole new direction. The empty tomb tells us that there is life and opportunity beyond what the world has to offer. The empty tomb still urges us to get up, gather for worship and praise of God. The empty tomb still sends us out on our way energized with hope in God’s future. The empty tomb still prods us to call, invite, welcome and share the Good News that Jesus lives!

Rules Breaker/Game Changer

3rd Sun in Lent – B

March 11, 2012

          If you are going to play, you’ve got to know the rules.  Even with just a few kids on a playground, there are rules.  I remember as a kid going over to visit with my dad’s mom, that would make her Grandma Queena Winzer.  She lived in small town in Eastern Pennsylvania called Emmaus.  Actually that depended upon how old you were.  She and the old Pennsylvania Dutch men and women called it Emaus—spelled still spelled with an “E”.  Well anyway, I have this memory of going to her little downstairs apartment and playing a board game.  It was probably Monopoly or Parchesi or even Scrabble.  Myself, my brother and sister were playing the game with her, and well it didn’t end well.  It ended when Grandma Queena picked up the board and slammed it down on the table.  Although we were old enough to play, I guess we didn’t know the most important rule. The one that says, Grandma Queena always wins.

You’ve got to know the rules of the game—especially the game of life, and I’m not talking about the board game.  You may have heard the statement, “life is a game”.  And sometimes it may feel that way, you know with winners and losers and such.  Well, as with all games there are rules to life, so if life is a game then there’s got to be rules.  There are rules.  The rules of nature everything ages, everything dies.  There is the rule of gravity.  There are rules within societies, cultures, and communities—you know for example we drive on the right side of the road, posted speed limits, turning our clocks ahead and losing an hour of sleep, etc. and so forth.

Reading or hearing our first assigned scripture often leads people to picture God as a heavenly rule maker.  As I’ve mentioned before there are some 613 commandments in the Hebrew Bible.  The past several weeks our 8:30 Sunday morning Bible Study group has been delving into the commands, the laws, the rules from the Book of Deuteronomy.  Anyway, the ones we have this morning is a version of what is known as the 10 Commandments.

These are the rules that God gives, through Moses, to a bunch of runaway ex-slaves on their way into freedom of the promised land.  Now I’m going to share with you just a few observations that will sound hopefully familiar to that bible study group.  First of all, these are not universal rules for everyone.  If you notice the first three are about worshipping the One God, the Lord, Yahweh, the Almighty.  That makes these 10 Commandments first and foremost religious, that is their origin, and we cannot take God out of the picture.  But not everybody worships this God—so therefore the 10 Commandments are not everybody’s rules.  However, within this listing there are rules that are shared  by just about every other group of civilized people.  You see, communities do not thrive if people are just running amok wantonly killing, stealing, and cheating one another.

Like I said, you’ve got to have rules.  These are the things that guide the common good and build society rather than allow a bunch of individuals running around guided by who’s got the biggest guns, or the biggest bank account—you know might equals right.  That’s not good, and God wants to keep us safe from that.  God gives to God’s people rules to help us live together.  The goal of following the Torah, the commands, the rules of God isn’t to make life a burden, instead it is to help these fledgling people stand up and stand out, to make them not just like everybody else, but to point out their special relationship with God.  That’s part of what’s behind that small portion of Psalm 19 – a psalm devoted to the gift of the Torah – Hebrew word for the laws.

Now as I said earlier, there are folks who picture God as this heavenly maker of eternal rules.  But that’s so limiting of God.  At first it may not make sense pairing the reading from Exodus with John’s  Gospel story of Jesus overturning the tables.  After all, the temple market was a result, was a necessary creation out of God’s command.  As that bible study group is learning in our study of Deuteronomy, God decreed that there could only be one place for the people to make their sacrifices—it had to be in the place God chose—and that was in the temple in Jerusalem. This is one of those things that makes the people of God different from all their other neighbors who could set up a shrine or a temple to all sorts of God’s like Zeus, or Aphrodite, or Apollo, or Baal, or Asherah (and do their sacrificing wherever).  The Jews by the rules of God’s command could only bring their animal and grain sacrifices to the temple, and that meant even if they lived far, far away.  So within the laws of Deuteronomy they were allowed to bring money, now of course the money of Rome promoted Rome and it’s emperor above all else, and that is idolatry, so they had to exchange Roman money for Jewish money to use to purchase the animals or whatever for their sacrifices.  That brings us to Jesus flipping out and flipping over the tables.

Now before we are call Jesus a rule-breaker (which he was called and which he actually did).  He isn’t just overturning a few tablets, I mean tables, he’s overturning the whole game.  It is more accurate and more faithful to call him instead a game-changer.    You see in Jesus the Christ we aren’t playing by the same rules.  The place of sacrifice is with Jesus, it is in our lives, in our hearts, in our actions, in what we do and what we say, in how live each and every day.

When it feels like all we are, like all those around us are just pawns in somebody else’s game– God is calling us to gather together for Sabbath worship, for rest , to listen to one another, to hold up and be held up in prayer—to hear God’s compassionate word—you are mine, my child.

When it feels like life is a rotten game, that the rules are out of whack and that we’re just losing all the time—when the elderly, the young, the poor, the immigrant, when men, women, and children and issues are just sexualized and are abused—even by our own laws and power players God is calling us to speak and shout, to denounce injustice.  To work to bring justice to light in our government, in our marketplace, in our schools.

When it feels like we just can’t seem to get it right—when we know the rules we are breaking are hurting—hurting those around us, hurting ourselves, hurting our relationship with God—God calls out to us and says – this is my body given for you. This is for the forgiveness of your sin.

No matter what you hear, no matter who says it—life isn’t a game. For Jesus, and for us who follow him, we are freed from that meaninglessness.  The life of every man, woman, child sitting in these pews, and out there in their homes and on the streets, every life is sacred—you are a gift to be cherished, to be gift to be set free to be poured out and shared for and with all—God’s love and life with no end.  Amen.

Sermon for Lent 1

BOOO!  (from the back of the sanctuary successfully startling some folks)

It doesn’t take a lot to scare some folks.  Take me for example; I it seems have always had a healthy dose of fear. As a kid, I think thunder storms were the worst.  There was one in particular.  We were traveling in our motorhome on vacation and we had stopped at some park or something.   I don’t remember all the details, but we were parked very close to a dam.  Well that night a doozy of a thunder storm rolled in, and there I was up in this bunk in the motor home.  As the lightning strikes and thunder clap shook the motor home, my imagination ran overboard and my fear the dam would break and we would be wiped away by the deluge of water.

Yeah, I may not be terribly creative in some respects, but I could always dream up some doomsday scenarios.  So buying a bunch of ark, animal, and rainbow baby stuff was never high on my list.  I knew the whole story.  I knew about God getting so sick and tired of all the evil just about everyone was doing that God opens up the heavenly floodgates to in a sense reverse creation and wipe the slate clean.  Except for Noah and his family, and 2 or 7 animals of each kind depending which verses you read in the bible.

The whole rainbow thing comes after the destruction.  As if God looks down and decides enough is enough, one flood is enough and promises to never ever wipe off the face of the earth with a flood, and to make sure there’s no forgetting on anybody’s part, God hangs up the instrument of waging war, the bow in the sky, so now we have the colors of the rainbow as a symbol for love, hope, joy, and welcome for all.

Of course, that in itself can be unsettling for some folks.  In these days of rampant fear of  dire predictions floating from experts, pundits, political action committees, and politicians themselves just about drenching and drowning us in fear.  Perhaps that is what is keeping us so paralyzed and polarized on so many things, especially today with the reality of climate change, why some people refuse to acknowledge even with the overwhelming majority of scientist and the data that human activitiy has and is impacting the undeniable reality of global climate change.  The water is rising, and again it’s our fault.

But fear is a funny thing, and maybe their fear is that if we admit this it may mean that God’s not in control.  But God is in control of God’s self.  But ever since the beginning God’s not controlled us, we’ve been given the freedom to do great and evil.  We could learn a lesson or two from God’s self-control.  See that rainbow still appears in the sky, and God does remember the covenant—the promise made and established  between God and with every living creature.  See God doesn’t limit his or her care and love to just a few folks, to one category of people, people who say the right words and pray the right prayers.  All God’s children, Lutherans of even all brands, Roman Catholics, Baptists, non-Christians too, Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims, non-believers, atheists all God’s children walking on 2 legs, or even on four or 6 or 8 or more, or none at all, the promise we read and heard in our first lesson is for us all.

We’re all in the same boat, so to speak.  The thing about us, what makes us the church is that we know it.  And knowledge is a precious gift and responsibility.  We’ve now entered the time of Lent in the church.  And you know what Lent has been about ever since it’s beginning about a 1000 years ago?  It’s about training us to live faithfully in a fearful world.  We spend 40 days in the wilderness of struggle, of sacrifice, of trying and doing stuff that doesn’t really make sense to the rest of the world around to build up, clean up, to focus our faithfulness.

These forty days plunges us again and again back into the water, but for us it’s not just rising sea levels but the waters of baptism, immersing us in love and forgiveness so that we can put our fears at bay and free us from their evil power to control us.  These days of Lent are the churches days, in that they are your time.  So as you head out this morning, out in the lobby at the welcome center is a pile of papers, just take one it’s a list of 40 things, one for each day, these are just ideas and suggestions adapted from a Lutheran mission ministry lead by the Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber in Denver.

Go ahead feel free to take it, and I urge you these 40 some days to really take the plunge, jump in and immerse yourself in all that Lent has for you, in the promises God offers us, don’t be afraid for you to be the person God’s calling, today.

Amen.