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

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

 You will eat, bye and bye

In that glorious land above the sky 

Work and pray, live on hay 

You’ll get pie in the sky when you die

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

 Long-haired preachers come out every night 

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

But when asked how ’bout something to eat 

They will answer in voices so sweet
Chorus

 You will eat, bye and bye

In that glorious land above the sky 

Work and pray, live on hay 

You’ll get pie in the sky when you die

And the Starvation Army, they play 

And they sing and they clap and they pray 

 Till they get all your coin on the drum 

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

 And they holler, they jump and they shout 

 Give your money to Jesus, they say     

 He will cure all diseases today
Chorus

 You will eat, bye and bye

In that glorious land above the sky 

Work and pray, live on hay 

You’ll get pie in the sky when you die

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

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

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

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

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

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

ARGH! Giant Chicken!

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

Attack of the 50 Ft Woman

Attack of the crab monsters

The Fly,

The Giant Gila Monster

The Killer Shrews

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Check your filter regularly  – sermon on Luke 7.36-50

Luke 7:36-50

36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37 And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. 38 She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” 40 Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “speak.” 41 “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” 48 Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

A fine-tuned machine. 

That’s how I want my car to work so I take good care of it. I’ve taken my sweet sweet prius in for her scheduled service. We are up to our 15,000 miles, check all sorts of things, including replacing if need be my car’s oil and air filters. If only the same could be done with people.

Now if you don’t know what a filter is. Let me give you an example of what it does. So, we hold most of our Village committee and team meetings across the street at Trinity. This past week, I got there early for a meeting, and I secured that big table booth that is kind of in the corner by the front door. I often arrive early so that meet and talk with, connect with the servers and maybe get some work done. I also like to be there to greet our members when they arrive. So on Thursday, I’m sitting at our table, with my computer open, jotting down thoughts for this sermon and I hear someone come in. I look up and not recognizing the couple, I say, “you are not my people.” I do not say this in my head; I do not even just whisper it under my breath. I declare it out loud, for if not the whole bar to hear, at least anyone within 10 or 15 feet.  

My filter was not working well. What I said wasn’t bad; it wasn’t evil. It just didn’t need to be said. Although you’ll never see one in anatomy, our filter just like in a car or a coffee pot, regulates what goes in and out. 

Sometimes, I wish my filter would have been working like the Pharisee’s in our story for today. After inviting Jesus to dinner, presumably having a good conversation (you know when you get past talking about the weather and sports). They are there reclining, and then that woman comes in. The pharisee definitely did not invite her, but somehow she get’s in. She doesn’t cower in the corner, she doesn’t wait until they are done talking. She barges in interrupts and disrupts their conversation with her oils and her tears, and her hands. 

Well this pharisee, while he may be wondering how this woman got in, his filter is working over-time. I don’t know if he personally knows her. I don’t know if he is stereotyping her. Whatever, his filter is telling him that she is a sinner, that she is unworthy and unwelcome. And, if this is obvious to the pharisee, why isn’t it obvious to Jesus, a supposed prophet, a holy man? How come Jesus doesn’t recognize her? He said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.” How come Jesus is letting her touch him? The Pharisee’s filter doesn’t let this thought, doesn’t let these words escape. None of this is spoken outside his own head—out loud.
Again, that’s the job of a filter—to regulate what gets through, what gets out.
According to the Pharisee, Jesus, obviously there is something wrong with his filter. Not only does he allow the woman to get close, close enough to touch, close enough for her tears wet his skin. This woman is emotional; she is a wracked with sorrow, with pain, and despair that’s how we usually describe her. But tears do not just fall when we are sad. She could be so thankful, so happy, so moved by the opportunity to see, to be near. Her joy, her relief that Jesus is there for her. That could be the source of this outpouring of oil and tears. Nevertheless, all the pharisee sees is that she is a mess.

So Jesus also addresses Simon the pharisee.

You know, if all we wanted was smooth superficiality, if all we wanted to do was get along, Jesus could have just agreed to disagree with the pharisee, kept silent, and kept the peace.

But as I said earlier, there is something off with Jesus’ filter. So Jesus speaks up. Now he doesn’t begin berating the pharisee. No, Jesus uses another method. He uses an example, a story about two people in debt. One has been pretty good and she owes only a little bit, the other that one is in over her head. But both debts are forgiven. Who is going to be the most relieved, joyful? Of course Simon admitted that it would be the one who owed a lot. Jesus could have left it right there. “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.

 Well, I guess we know that Jesus’ filter is not about being polite or making friends.

Jesus points out that the pharisee’s filter is self-righteousness—what matters to the pharisee is whatever confirms his judgement of the way the world works and whatever makes him look good.

And again, that’s not how Jesus’ filter works. Do I have to spell it out for us? Jesus’ filter is love. Jesus let’s love flow freely. Nothing is going to get in the way of his, of God’s love—not appearances, conveniences, not even elections.

So, what do we call what we are doing right now? Worship. Service. Umm. Church, people of God, this is our time to check ourselves, to see what we’ve been letting through and letting out. Whether we just need to fine tune or a major overhaul, this is our time, our service time to replace fear, self-righteousness, self-consciousness, hate and hurt with joy and love like the woman at Jesus’ feet. Wherever you’ve been, it doesn’t matter where life has taken you, no matter how many miles you have on you, this is our service time. Let us be filled so much with God’s love that it flows freely, let our filter be love. Amen.

Happiness is Horse S***

Luke 7.17-35

17This word about him spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country. 18The disciples of John reported all these things to him. So John summoned two of his disciples

19and sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 20When the men hadcome to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’” 21Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. 22And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. 23And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” 24When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 25What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who put on fine clothing and live in luxury are in royal palaces. 26What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 27This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ 28I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater than John; yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” 29(And all the people who heard this, including the tax collectors, acknowledged the justice of God, because they had been baptized with John’s baptism. 30But by refusing to be baptized by him, the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves.) 31“To what then will I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? 32They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep.’ 33For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon’; 34the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ 35Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by all her children.” 
 Sermon 
So, 

What things? Our passage for today starts with, “The disciples of John reported all these things to him. What—all these things?  
That can be a problem you know with bible readings we hear in worship on a Sunday morning. Sometimes our readings break up larger stories. So, did anyone wonder what these things were, that John’s disciples were telling him? 
Well it’s what we read last week, that the news was spreading of Jesus healing of the centurion’s servant and raising from death to life the widow’s son. Amazing things, right? The sick are healed; demons cast out; the dead are raised, the blind can see. Incredible.  
Just as Jesus had declared that day in the synagogue: remember that: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.  
So why does John ask, “are you the one?” or more correctly why does he send his disciples back to Jesus to ask “are you the one?”  

Luke doesn’t tell us in these verses, but John has been arrested and is sitting in prison. 
Are you the one? John asks, because he’s heard all the good reports, the miracles the healing and all that. If ever there were a time for superlatives, this would be it! However, there’s still that matter of releasing captives, freeing the oppressed? Maybe, John is wondering. OK, Jesus it’s my turn. You can any day now break me right out of here. I think John’s got some real concerns, some real expectations. Maybe John knows things are not looking good for him, should John put his hope in Jesus, or another? Are you the one? John has some real expectations.
And if you didn’t know it already, the bad news is John is going to be sadly disappointed as he literally looses his head. Perhaps John should have lowered his expectations.
Because in an article in the magazine Psychology Today, Dr. Jeremy E Sherman argues that the secret to happiness in life is: low expectations. 
“This rings very true in my experience. I once expected to make it big, and when I didn’t, I eventually got over that expectation, and have been much happier ever since. Every little success these days is a surprise and delight.”

He goes on to say
 It makes me wonder about optimists. Are they so cheerful because they have high expectations or low ones?   

The joke goes that a child was so optimistic that, to test the extent of his optimism, his parents gave him a pile of horse manure. The kid’s eyes open wide with delight. He dives into the pile and starts digging. 

“What are you doing?” his parents ask.

The kid replies, “With this much manure, I’m betting there’s a pony in here!”

Imagine his disappointment when there wasn’t. 
Maybe the true optimist would say “Horse manure! That’s so much better than what I expected!  I thought you were going to give me anthrax for my birthday!” 
Even manure is a happy gift when your expectations are low enough.
AND

Expect no good things to come to you, from you, from circumstances or from others and you’ll be eternally delighted, grateful for any good things that happen.

No expectation of a pony means no risk of disappointment. Assume you’re destined to spend eternity in hell and you will experience nothing but heaven. Expect people to be as bad for you as anthrax and you’ll be appreciative of whatever you get from them, even horse manure behavior.
So there you have it. All we have to do is lower our expectations and we’ll be happy.
Except that’s not the answer Jesus sends back to John. Jesus tells John (see what I’m doing) healing, teaching, forgiving. It’s as if Jesus is saying, John, don’t just look at yourself. Look beyond the walls of your cell. Look beyond yourself.
 Now I imagine I don’t have to tell you how counter-cultural that message is. It’s not what we. It’s not what I want to hear, especially when life’s been giving us—let’s say horse manure. Troubles tend to turn us inward not outward, especially when all we expect to be is happy.
The thing is. I’ve seen, and especially recently, I’ve seen a lot of turning outward going on. You may have witnessed it here, I remember the Sunday when Tracy (who is fighting breast cancer) listed off several names and concerns for us to pray for. And then, truly as an after-thought asked us to pray for her.
And when I visit someone who’s recuperating at home, or in the hospital or the nursing home. Sure we talk about how they are doing, but every time they also ask about others—how is Stan, how is Tracy, how is Vickie, Arlene?
And stories of people, especially in our country, but also all around the world, people looking beyond themselves, looking out for one another, people knowing that doing what they are doing—teaching young people, serving as lawyers, protesting, serving as human shield to protect mosques and synagogues, Planned Parenthood clinics, speaking up for others, even when told to be quiet. Elizabeth Warren was the farthest thing from happy when “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted,”  
I think Jesus, in his words to John, was setting him free. Freeing him from his cell. So let’s not lower our expectations. Let’s change them. Instead of prosperity—peace, instead of success—sanctuary. Healing not happiness. Justice and not “just-us”. Amen.

Baptism of Jesus: What can we do?

Jan. 8, 2017

Luke  3:1-22
1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ ” 7 John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” 10 And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11 In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.” 15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people. 19 But Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, 20 added to them all by shutting up John in prison. 21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

In the eighth year of presidency of Barack Obama, two weeks before the inauguration of President-elect Trump, when Scott Walker was governor, and Chris Abele was ruler of the county, and Tom Barrett the city of Milwaukee, when Rev. Elizabeth Eaton was the presiding Bishop and Rev. Paul Erickson the bishop of Greater Milwaukee.
Sounds a little weird doesn’t it. But, the gospel is not just stories of a long time ago, in a far away place, with no relevance for today. The names may change, but the questions are still the same: “what should we do?” 
What should we do? asked the people who heard John’s words, who came to be baptized by him, who heard and listened to his preaching to his call to repentance, the people, the men and women of the surrounding towns and villages, the crowds of religious, the crowds of curious, even the tax collectors and soldiers, in days of uncertainty, with capricious and untrustworthy rulers, they hear his warnings and words doom and gloom. What should we do?
The names may change, but the question remains the same. What should we do? Decisions of family and career, who are we becoming? What should we do? When we hear the swing of the ax as another loved one is diagnosed with cancer, or depression, or addiction or any other myriad of modern maladies that take away the life we expect, the life we want, the life we hope for. What should we do? When relationships fall apart, when we feel like we are surrounded by a brood of vipers. What should we do when the government that should be acting on the behalf of justice and peace, which should be working for the benefit of the most vulnerable, when government, when our nation seems hellbent to benefit the richest at the cost of the health of women, children, vets, hard-working poor, and our planet. What should we do?

In the words of a modern prophet: “just keep swimming”. for those who may not know the source of that wisdom, it’s what Dory sings in the movie “Finding Nemo” Yes, I’ve just compared John the Baptist to a Disney cartoon character. Hear me out though, or in other words just keep swimming with me on this one.
So when the crowds come to John and ask what should we do? What does John say? Whoever has two coats, share one. Whoever has food, share that too. That should be no surprise to anyone even vaguely familiar with the Bible, with the Hebrew God, the God of Jesus. Share. We are not put on this earth to just look after ourselves. We are here to care for others. John and Jesus, well they’re in the same stream as their ancestors. But who else comes to waters of the Jordan? To tax collectors. What are they to do? Does he tell them to give up their evil job, their collaboration with the occupying enemy? No, just Collect what you’re supposed to collect—not more. And to the soldiers? What are they to do? Are they supposed to lay down their weapons? Using good biblical imagery, should they beat their swords into shovels and plows for farming? No, Don’t take advantage of your position and power. Don’t extort people, don’t trump up charges. What should we do? It seems like according to John, repentance is to just keep swimming.
Just keep swimming in the waters of baptism. See baptism isn’t just a bit of sprinkle, a bit of water dropped onto our skin. Baptism, even if it’s at a neat font like ours is full immersion. We don’t just dip our toes in the waters of baptism. God’s love flows all around us. Baptism is really getting in over our heads in God’s reality.  
And one of the important things that John tells us is we are not meant to just float along. Swimming is exercise Just keep swimming takes skill, practice; it means putting muscle, and breath, and intention. It is doing something. In our gospel reading for today, Luke doesn’t tell us if Jesus asked what he should do. But, I kind a like to picture him doing that. After all he was a real person, a real man, not some Christian cartoon character. The thing about us people is that we question. I think that’s what differentiates us from all animals, all fish in the sea—it’s that we question. Why? How? When? What should we do?
People of God, when you start to ask, what should I do? What can I do? What good is anything? Remember you are in God’s waters and God wants and life needs you to keep swimming. Share what you have whether it’s coats or cakes. Share what you have whether it’s time or technical skills. Really try to live a just life in whatever way you can. When the world or the powers, just want you to go with the flow. Just keep swimming, against the current, splashing and even making waves.
The baptism of Jesus is just the beginning. From now on until Easter we are going to hear how Jesus is going to make a splash and make some waves. What Jesus does and says will be welcomed by some and feared by others, because a lot of people, ok, all of us, we like to answer our own question of what should we do. We like to answer that, we think we need to determine and limit the boundaries of God’s love. We build our own damns to contain God’s goodness. You know, if I need to treat the abuser, the alt right as a real person, as someone loved by God, well I’ll be damned. But, Jesus claims us, all of us as brothers and sisters. Jesus shows us the great depth of God’s ocean of love looks like, how we are part of it, how we live in it and share it with others. It’s ok to keep on asking, so what should we do? Because in the waters of baptism, God claims us as beloved sons and daughters, so just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming. Amen. 

Believe the Conspiracy

Dec. 18, 2016

 Luke 1:26-45 [46-56]

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. 39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” [46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” 56 And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.]
People, we have all sorts of beliefs. W believe in the Elf of the shelf, Santa, Sasquatch, that aliens built the pyramids, that moon landing was a hoax, and that the Russians conspired to help elect Donald Trump. Ok, sometimes there is real evidence for some of what we believe. However, as is painfully evident with our current events, evidently real evidence doesn’t change whether or not we believe anything. We basically get to believe what we want to believe.   
So this morning, as we hear the story from Luke’s gospel. Ask yourself, why shouldn’t I believe? Why shouldn’t I believe that an angel (a messenger from God) appeared to Mary. Why shouldn’t I believe that God chose Mary to birth hope, love, and truth into this world? Why not believe, with Elizabeth, pregnant with a very unlikely baby herself, that the baby in her womb didn’t just hiccup or move but actually did jump for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice? And with Elizabeth, why not believe that the baby the unmarried Mary carried would be the savior of the God’s people? That God wasn’t just hanging out in heaven, but by being born as a helpless baby, God in Godself desires to conspire with humanity for the sake of the world. And not only that, God specifically chooses to work with, to work through, to inspire and conspire with the most unlikely, the most illogical, and the most over-looked people.
In Luke’s Gospel, God is not meeting and colluding with heads of state, with kings or generals, with magnates of industry, CEO’s, and politicians. The heavenly messenger visits a young woman. Now can I just say, we don’t have to keep painting Mary as meek, mild, and humble. While she is no princess, not royalty or wealthy, she is courageous and brave willing to cooperate with Divine Mystery. Just think, we are not told she traveled with anyone when she went to Elizabeth. Mary is a woman steeped in the promises of her faith, and is willing to help turn the tables to send the lofty packing and lift up the lowly. Instead of humble and passive, maybe believe Mary can be for us a model of strength, a woman who is willing to believe that God’s got, for her and for people like her, something up God’s Divine sleeve.
And for Mary, there was no proof. Just the choice to believe. That’s the thing about our faith. We don’t have to wait for scientists to hypothesize, test and retest. We don’t have to wait for Indiana Jones or Josh Gates of Expedition Unknown to find a footprint or discover some long lost cave. Belief can be a choice—a decision to see things in a way that can’t be proven, to see things the way others do not. But being a Christian, is not just being a card-carrying member of the church club.

 

Oh no people, this is a whole lot more serious, a whole lot more real, because following Jesus, believing—being and living means we’re part of God’s conspiracy too. If we are believing, we know life is not about colluding withthe status quo, the American dream, or the American or capitalist domination system. Our belief better lead to a life convicted of aiding and abetting God’s system, God’s dream, God’s conspiracy.  
Throughout the ages there have been people women like Mary and Elizabeth, and men like Juan Diego. Now not many of us of Lutheran or northern European or white northerners may know this man’s name. But Juan Diego is the man who according to belief and traditions, One early December morning in 1531, Juan Diego an Indio peasant and a Christian convert, Juan Diego was walking past the holy hill of his native ancestors — hill called Tepeyac. Suddenly he sees a vision of a dark-skinned, barefoot, pregnant girl. She’s trampling down snakes and crowned with stars. The young woman addresses him in his own Nauhatl language, calling him “my son,” and she declares that she is Mary, the mother of God, mother of our Lord Jesus, and that he should build a church, a place for his people to worship
Frightened, surprised, Juan Diego replies, “I am a nobody, I am a small rope, a tiny ladder, the tail end, a leaf,” . But the vision insists, so Juan Diego rushes off to share the good news with the Spanish bishop. And the bishop, who is not at all pleased, says, in effect: you stupid Indian, are you crazy? The most Holy Virgin Mary is hardly some brown-skinned girl, have you no respect?

Juan Diego returns to the hilltop, prays, and the brilliant vision, who will later be named Guadalupe, appears again. She asks the Indian to open his tilma, his cloak, and she fills it with roses—impossible, sweet-smelling roses in December. He takes the films, the cloak with the roses to the bishop and when he opens it, the Mary’s image is imprinted on that rough, everyday cloth. And many believe it is a miracle. The church is built, the Virgin the Lady of Guadalupe becomes an icon to see God, to see how God continues to conspire with normal, every day, common people. Asking us to believe, not just in God but also in ourselves. Asking us to believe not just in heaven, but in God’s presence in our world. Inviting us to join the Holy conspiracy to save, not just a few souls here and there, but to rescue and redeem the whole earth, to move with mercy, to fill the hungry and empty, lift up the lonely and lowly. I don’t know about you but of all the things we could believe in, this sounds so good to be true. Amen.