Do not “let go, and let God”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wait for it; wait for it”–NO, I’d rather not.

Waiting – no one waits for the fun of it. We wait when we have to do something (get your phone fixed, your paperwork processed, to buy your groceries. some people, when it’s something good we are waiting for say “we can’t wait”: for the weekend, for vacation, for retirement. But what makes waiting really hard?

It is the unknown, how long? How long till a real human is on the other end of the line, how long till your name or number is called, how long till something happens, how long till it get’s better.
That’s one of the issues we glimpse in the first reading for today. How long till it get’s better, see it’s about 600 years before Jesus and the Roman empire. Things are bad in Jerusalem and Judah. A different empire, the Babylonians with their King Nebuchadnezzer II (or Nebuchadrezzer) are threatening. They have already invaded at least once; they have taken holy things from the temple; they have taken people back to their part of the world which would be modern day Iraq. Ruins of ancient Babylon are about 50 miles south of Baghdad. This is what is called the Exile in the Bible or the Babylonian Captivity.
So the issue isn’t whether or not it’s a bad situtation, the question is how long. Hananiah, a prophet of the Lord declares to Jeremiah and the remaining priests and leaders a message that the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel is acting to save, to redeem, return, and reestablish the temple, Jerusalem, the king—that this would only take two years.
Actually the Babylonian Exile or Captivity actually lasted closer to 50 years. That’s quite a difference. Of course we’re celebrating 50 years as a congregation, but can you imagine living 50 years under a tyrant, living in a world, surrounded by people whose values are so different, so contrary to what we hold dear, who not only see the world differently than we do, but also have the power to shape it, twist reality, twist truth. There’s a big difference between 2 or 4 and 50 years of a Koch brothers, Walton, Graham, Trump family dynasty.
Two or 50. I’d take the 2 please. Two years to wait to experience God’s graciousness, for God’s will to win out—that’s doable, we can just keep on doing what we’ve been doing, no big deal, time will fly, not that long of a wait.
That’s the other issue in this small passage from the book of the prophet Jeremiah, a book of 52 chapters, where the prophet Jeremiah is pretty consistently calling out the leaders and the people. You see in this prophetic book Jeremiah, the state of affairs, the defeat and removal of the people to exile in Babylon was the direct consequences turning away from the covenant the promise with God, and sure sign of that apostasy, from Jeremiah 5.28. The prophet says, “ They know no limits in deeds of wickedness; they do not judge with justice the cause the orphan to make it prosper, and they do not defend the rights of the needy. … and then in vs 30 “An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule as the prophets direct; my people love to have it so, but what will you do when the end comes?”
Is two years really enough time to change? I think that might be an undercurrent of this conflict between the prophets Jeremiah and Hananiah. The temptation, inclination is to just kind of wait it out, to maybe post some comments on Facebook and bemoan, complain about the easy things —stupid tweets, ignorant, and immature comments but hey 2 years, there will be another election. “This too shall pass”.  
A prophet like Jeremiah reminds us that we don’t know how long the wait will really be and that maybe, just maybe there’s something bigger going on, something much more destructive than one election. Divisions don’t happen over night. Sexism, heterosexism, isolationism weren’t born on Jan. 20th, or in 2016 for that matter. Racism isn’t just guys in the KKK or skinheads. Racism is systemic, corrupting what should be a justice system into a violent attempt to keep law and order, and the marketplace (a place for the distribution of goods, services, ideas, and even community) is replaced by profits.
 The prophet Jeremiah’s words are as powerful, as pertinent, today July 2nd (July 4th weekend) as they were almost three-thousand years ago. If ever there were a clearer example of a true biblical prophet. We have it today. God’s prophets do not promise profit nor do they predict the future. The Word of the Lord for us today is resistance; it is assistance; it is persistence. or assistance, resistance, and persistence.
Assistance, we need to be as caring as ever. We need to simply assist, offer a hand, a listening ear, an open heart—not just to those who are struggling (food pantry, police officers, refugees, the sick). But with one another and with ourselves. This is not easy, we are not just mildly disappointed or miffed, slightly slighted. Our souls’ are heartsick, relationships and trusts are broken. We are depressed, anxious, and that tends to come out in all the wrong places—tempers taut and flaring. Feelings of powerlessness make us want to be able to control, make sense of one thing in this out of control world. The temptation is for comfort instead of hope. So, we need to practice care, to assist one another because we need to be in this for the really long haul. We need to resist negativity, resist violence of word, resist the distractions, resist strategically and it will take persistence. Real life changing, people transforming, church reforming, system revamping work and living doesn’t happen in two years. Putting a Democrat in the Oval Office will not fix it. It’s not about making America great again or even making America America again — persistance, resistance, assistance.
There’s a lot of things I just love about us at Village. I have rejoiced that we do not make certain words idols. The words we use today, and for the next few weeks, you won’t have to wait long for these to change. We change even the words the translations of the Lord’s prayer. I appreciate this, I really do. However, I have to say there is something to using the same words, week after week, and it’s not that the prayer goes faster because we don’t have to read new words. Actually, that’s a really good example. See at a lot of churches that just use the same old words, Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name… the prayer becomes a mere mindless repetition, eyes barely reading or perhaps scanning for a typo a mistake. It’s almost like we can’t wait to get done with it. That is not prayer.
You might have noticed that the times we have used one of the “traditional” Lord’s prayers that I have been looking around the room. I am not checking to see who’s doing it right—who else might have it memorized. No, I am looking at you, the people I am praying with, I am praying for. Each prayer petition means more when I can put a face to the words, words like forgive us as we forgive others, words like give us our daily bread, deliver us from evil. The church didn’t give us that prayer so we could just say some words and wait for it. 
So today, when we get to the place in the liturgy after the Words of Institution as we are about to receive God’s gift of grace, and we pray the Lord’s Prayer. Don’t use the words in the bulletin. They’re great. I liked them when I put them there early this week. But let’s use the traditional ones that hopefully many of us know by heart, and since they are not printed in your bulletin, look up, look around, assist, resist, and persist with one another so that we pray for and with one another. In that small way we begin to live God’s kingdom come on earth. We don’t have to wait. Amen. 

Sermon for Juneteenth & Black Lives Matter

June 18, 2017 – Juneteenth/Black Lives Matter
Preaching text Matthew 9.35-10.23
Jesus was no boy scout.  

It’s not that Jesus wasn’t a good man. He just didn’t live according to the boy scout motto—be prepared. This morning we heard about Jesus seeing the crowds of people who were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. It’s not that Jesus didn’t care. The gospel writer tells us that Jesus had compassion for them, and knowing he couldn’t reach all of them, Jesus sent out his disciples.  
But did Jesus send them out with their pocket knife & their pocket catechism, a bag of snacks and tricks all equipped and prepared? No. He sends the disciples out to cure, heal, cleanse, cast out evil, proclaim the arrival of God’s kingdom; Jesus sends disciples out “as is”. 
9Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, 10no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food.
Disciples of Jesus head into the mission field, out to the world, into life, pretty much empty handed. It’s seems like it’s taken us, the church, especially church leaders, church professionals just about 2000 years to start to actually hear what Jesus says. We want training and tools; we seek out podcasts, packages and programs. We want to be prepared. 
I am a great example. In my 30’s I accepted the call to serve at St. Paul’s, just a couple of miles west of here at 28th & Wisconsin Ave. I remember early on in my call as pastor, I was picking up some kids to take them to worship or a youth event, and as we were driving down the road they told me informed me that they were going to be moving and that their grandmother was moving with them. Great I thought, here is my chance to connect with these urban black kids, so I start telling them about how when I was10 years old my family moved. We moved from Old Zionsville (which is basically just a couple of houses and a volunteer fire house along what was called Kings Highway), we were moving from there into Macungie, actually a subdivision of new homes outside the village of Macungie (which is Lenni Lenape for “bear swamp”). My grandma was moving in with us too, into our 4 bedroom house. It was so new, that my sister and I got to pick out (choose) the carpeting for our new room. 
I was trying so hard to connect the excitement I remembered with theirs, but for some reason, the kids I was talking with weren’t all excited. They just sat there while I drove and talked, talked, It turns out they weren’t excited about this move, or all that excited about the move they made about 9 months later from that house on 28th and Clyborn, to the house on 33rd just a few blocks north of Center St., or the next a few blocks south of North on 37th street, or the move to the southside, then back again to the northside on 48th St up when that toddler ran into the street was hit and killed and then the driver who stopped and a 15yr old boy were then shot and killed.  
Eventually, I figured out how totally clueless I was. How my white middle class life had actually not prepared me at all to enter the lives of a single parent working poor family living in Milwaukee. Luckily, or shall I say more theologically correct, with the Spirit of Jesus I pretty soon accepted how unprepared so I opened my ears, my hands, and my heart. In those years I brought bible knowledge, middle class knowledge. I would love to say that I delivered that Gospel as faithfully as the mailman. But the gospel, God’s kI didn’t bring that. That happened, God’s kingdom that came when we were together. 
You know, I can’t speak for you but I didn’t learn about Juneteenth when I was in school, or in my home church. When I was young, I just assumed that when Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves and the south lost the Civil War that was the end of slavery that was the end of it—you know everything was cool. All people needed to do was make the right decisions. I didn’t know that the language, the comments, and the jokes I heard growing up as a kid were part and parcel of systemic oppression of racism. That it’s not enough to remove the n-word from my vocabulary. Actually, it’s terrible to admit, but I think a lot of people, white people, are pretty unprepared for the life that so many others live. And too many of us don’t even know how un prepared we are. When we bump into a black person’s, or an latino’s, or another person’s experience we judge their life, their words, their reality only by ours. My privilege means I don’t have to worry someone even a police officer might be just so full of fear, that my sons would instill so much fear in others that they can be shot and killed with impunity. Too many of us are so far away, so disconnected from the pain, the sadness, and grief, the numbness or the terror that a verdict in the Philando Castille—just the latest case.
Now this could make some people uncomfortable, but Jesus in our gospel for today sure seems more concerned with the lives of the harassed and helpless than with the comfort of disciples. Disciples, followers of Jesus, you and me, we are sent into the world, not to just hang out with those like us, but to the harassed and the helpless. Whether that’s someone we know, someone who is sitting on these chairs every week, or a police officer that ducks in for a quick bite to eat, something to drink, a moment. Maybe it’s a young lady or a young man struggling to figure out who they are, express themselves, discover themselves, let off some steam and stress. The thing is the only way the kingdom comes to all of us lost sheep is if open ourselves, cut out our prepared spiels, and listen really listen to the people all around us.
Because we all need this kingdom, reign, vision, reality, whatever we call it. We need it. whatever you want to call it, we all lose it, we all get lost in ourselves. I think that’s why today is really important, (a mostly white congregation) recognizing Juneteenth. Because early just yesterday Saturday morning during powershift 2 single young men came to our door. They came at different times. The first was a young white guy dressed in button down shirt. He was sitting in those chairs out in our lobby talking with me sometime around 1:30. The other man was young black man with real baggy pants. Sure we greeted both, sure we offered both men water and some food. Both stayed for quite a while, both weren’t quite sure how they were getting home. We prayed with the young white guy before we said goodbye. But I didn’t pray with the young black man. Instead when he went to use our restroom, I went out to the officers to let them know that we might be looking for them to help us make sure this black man left. Sure, there are other circumstances. The white guy was there earlier in the “night” around 1:30 and the black guy was there an hour later at 2:30 when we were getting done, tired, and ready to pack it in. Instead of really listening to that young black man, you know what I was doing. I was preparing; I was preparing. Sure, I can say Black Lives Matter, but as long as I keep preparing as long as we allow ourselves as individuals, and as a church as a people, out of fear prepare ourselves, focus on us on our survival, allow tiredness and fear shape what we say and what we do, we’ll miss God’s kingdom of heaven come on earth for us. We’ll just be too busy, being good little girl and boy scouts, lost preparing for not even God knows what, when we could be listening, learning, living in God’s love, love that allows me to say, you know what—I’m no girl scout, I’m not perfectly prepared but I am often lost, but I we are forgiven and God is sending me/sending us good news—so let’s listen. Amen.

Pride is Good

June 10, 2017 Pride
preaching text Genesis 1
Pride is good. God wants us to be proud.
Yes, you heard me right. Yes, this here preacher just declared form this “pulpit” that Pride is good.
You won’t hear that from most preachers or pastors. Why?
Because pride is bad, right? It’s one of the biggies, one of the top 7. The seven deadly sins.

I know we’re not big on sins here at Village, but can we name those 7: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth. While the bible is full of lists, this list doesn’t actually come from the bible. You won’t find the 7 deadly anywhere in the bible, but it does come from the church—probably just a few 300 or 400 years after Jesus. The church and others have identified/focused on pride as basically the source of all other sins. 
Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying: In reality, there is, perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself; you will see it, perhaps, often in this history; for, even if I could conceive that I had compleatly overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.
Pride. The source of all sins. That’s what the church has taught right. Contrary to what many churches, preachers have taught that the sin Sodom and Gomorrah is homosexuality (which isn’t what’s really going on in the story). The violence the men of Sodom seek to perpetrate comes from pride and greed. The prophet Ezekiel says in 16.49: “This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.” Pride.
So if we’re the church? Shouldn’t we be against Pride? Shouldn’t we run as far away as possible from pride. But no, we here at Village have participated and gone to Pride Fest and some of us will walk/march in the Pride Parade this afternoon, and I just a few minutes ago declared that God wants us to be proud.
Is pride always a sin? What do you think?
If a parent is proud of a child, is that a sin?
Psalm 20 urges us to take pride in God, and then in the new testament. For Paul, in the the letter to the Galatians, says that we can be proud of our good works. 
Take our reading for this morning. It sure sounds like God is pretty proud of Godself in our reading for today. What was that refrain, we said over and over again?
And God saw that it was good. Good. The Hebrew there is “tov”.  

God creates the land, the earth, and it is good and God created the plants and trees and vegetation, and God saw that it is good, the moon, sun and stars in the sky and it is good; animals, sea monsters, birds, and it is good; humankind male and female, God saw creation and it is good, very tov good.
This is what Pride Fest and Pride Parades is all about. Gay pride is not about putting straight or cis people down. It is the place and space to for them to be the norm, the normative, the majority, for some to be themselves. It is instead an opportunity for the LGBT community to claim what has all too often been denied and withheld from them, that they are good— that everyone, including and especially themselves are created good.
Just one more thing before I’m done here, there’s more in our scripture passage this first story of creation—that has been used against the LGBT community. It is these words, “

7So God created humankind in his image,

in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

28God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply. 
First of all and again contrary to what some in the church have taught, both male and female share in God’s image. Some interpret and read these words as if God’s will for us is to be fruitful and multiply, as if procreation is God’s will for us. Well we as a species have certainly filled the earth. At this point we’ve overfilled it. And if procreation is so important, what about all those people who don’t or can’t have children. Are their relationships, are their lives worth less, not as God-blessed as breeders? Our answer is no. God declares creation, from the tiniest quark or atom, and smaller, to the great sea-monsters wales, octopus, and all to be good. Creation is so good God takes a “day”, God takes precious time to (rest) well actually celebrate, revel in it, enjoy us. God is proud of what God has created in us. It has been said that the rest of scripture from genesis on is our struggle to accept this for ourselves and for others. Our problem, our sin, has not been that we were simply proud, but that we were prouder of ourselves and others. Can you imagine what it, what this world would look like if everyone could see just how precious, beautiful, how fine we, how fine all God’s children are—that we are, that we start out complete—that we don’t have to do something to be declared good—that we don’t have to earn money, get good grades, win races. That the source of our pride was in our very existence. Quoting another great theologian:

Whether life’s disabilities

Left you outcast, bullied or teased

Rejoice and love yourself today

‘Cause baby, you were born this way

No matter gay, straight or bi

Lesbian, transgendered life

I’m on the right track, baby

I was born to survive

No matter black, white or beige

Chola or orient made

I’m on the right track, baby

I was born to be brave

I’m beautiful in my way

‘Cause God makes no mistakes

I’m on the right track, baby

I was born this way

Don’t hide yourself in regret,

Just love yourself and you’re set

I’m on the right track, baby

I was born this way, 
Read more: Lady GaGa – Born This Way Lyrics | MetroLyrics 
That just because you are is good enough. That would be so TOV, so very very good. Amen.  

Pentecost Pickles

This brief sermon was followed by a time of experiential worship”

Pentecost 2017
Pickles? Pickles in communion? There’s no pickles in communion. Ever since the middle of the 20th century, starting from Jewish delis in New York, the pickle has been served with sandwiches your turkey and swiss, your pastrami and rye, and your tunafish. Picklles on your plate, but with the plate and cup of Holy Communion? Pickles.
But that’s what I thought I heard. Pickles.
Except that’s not what the Rev. Mark Bangert said. He said “epiclesis”. Greek “epi” meaning near or at and klesis – to call to. It is the prayer that is said during communion—the prayer to come Holy Spirit.
Epiklesis and pickles. What if instead of one day to celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit a couple of thousand years ago, what if our prayer were come Holy Spirit every day. What if the Holy Spirit were as present as those pickles on every lunch plate. Actually, that’s more faithful to what we encounter in scripture, what we experience in life. The Holy Spirit has been, is and will be inspiring whenever and wherever. It is the Holy Spirit that inspires musicians to write, and play, choirs and congregations to sing; It is with the Holy Spirits inspiration that artists draw and paint, and sculpt, and build. It is the Holy Spirit’s inspiring that brings us together. So today, we are not going to talk about the Holy Spirit, but we are going to practice being inspired by the Spirit. We have three different opportunities to experience the power of the Spirit. One will be with art, and we will melt crayons to create something like stained glass images of the Spirit, of the fire, and of the Wind/breath. Bill and Kyna will help lead this activity.
At this other table, we have cards, hole punch, pens, and string. This is our prayer station, that with the presence of the Holy Spirit, you working together can compose our prayers of the people.
The third option is the ancient practice of the mutual consolation of the saints. You can spend with one another in conversations of care. It can be with someone you may know well, or maybe not. claim these seats here, for anyone who would like to remain in these seats. It is with the power of the Holy Spirit that we can be genuinely present, listening, and curious about one another.  
You are free to move from one station to another as, as we say the Spirit moves you from table to table as the Spirit moves you. 
begin this sacred time with a prayer—an Epiclesis. Come Holy Spirit, we invite you, we welcome you, we beg you, come be with us as your children gathered in this place.  
Inspirit us to work together, to experience you in one another, to feel your power, your momentum, your energy, you connection within and among us. May we remember not just pickles on a plate, but your presence in this place. Amen.

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.

 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

 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

 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.