Friday, September 21, 2018

Busyness

This always happens to me when I go on vacation. I get relaxed and restful and then I look back at what I normally do all in one day and I am amazed. How can I manage so much in one day!? Why do I fill up my life with so much busyness? Unfortunately, it is not an atypical way of living these days. Our American society puts such an emphasis on busyness and filling our time with activities, we sometimes forget why we do what we do. However, the why of what we do is very important.

As I am on vacation, I always at some point reflect on my normal life. Why is my routine the way it is? Do I want to do all the things I have on my schedule? What can I let go of? How do I want to allow myself to rest in my normal life? As most of us have started back into the fall rush of activities and work, take a moment to reflect on your schedule, on your busyness. Why do you do each thing? Is there a purpose? Are there things on your schedule which are simply busyness? How could you let some of them go? God calls us into rest and calmness as well as activity. God gave us the best role model of taking time off ever, God's self! Right there in the beginning of all time and space, God rested. Even Jesus rested. We hear of him falling asleep in boats, and going home for dinner, and taking time away to pray. When are you resting today?

Friday, September 14, 2018

Stewardship


"The earth and everything in it, the world and its inhabitants, belong to the Lord." – Psalm 24:1

We have many many possessions. We think we possess them. However, everything in the world belongs to God, and we are only stewards of them. We come into this world as we leave this world, with nothing except ourselves. We cannot change our eternal lives by storing up possessions. In reality, the more we have, the more we are possessed by our possessions.

As we come into the season of our Stewardship campaign, it is good to reflect on how much God has given us and how much of what we have is a gift. In the Jewish tradition, the understanding of what we give back to God is very clearly spelled out. We are to give God, through the Temple, the first tenth of all our harvest, our income, and our gifts. Yet, when Jesus comes and teaches the people, he doesn't specify how much or what percentage we are to give. He teaches that we should share out of a thankful heart. For those of us who are stable in many ways, this can be an easy thing to do. However, for some of us the struggle is real in figuring out how to give in thanksgiving, while still making sure all the bills are covered. Thankfully, we are a community and there are many ways of giving and sharing.

I hope you will take the time to think and pray about your giving this year. Being a good steward requires intentionality as well as action. What do you have to be thankful for and how can you share that gratitude with others?

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Rescue


disjointed manifestations
of love, of broken hearts
survivor's guilt in trade

I speak of which I know
to give, one must receive
I was rescued first, indeed...

there is no mistaking the need
the chain wrapped around our heads
linking me to you and you and you...

9/10/17

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Ephphatha. Be opened.


Ephphatha. Be opened.

Ephphatha is a funny word to our ears.
In Aramaic it means to be opened.
Aramaic was the language Jesus spoke most of the time.
It is characteristic of the gospel of Mark that we hear the words Jesus used,
instead of being translated into Greek and then English.
There is an understanding in Mark that the words of Jesus are powerful.
Words do have power, that is true,
though not in the same way as some people in the ancient world understood them.
They weren't magical.
However, it is interesting that Mark was concerned about representing the words Jesus used.

Ephphatha. Be opened.

The woman in the story from the gospel passage was certainly ready to be open.
I imagine that by this point in her life, she was at the end of her rope
with trying to help her daughter.
I'm sure over the years, she had tried everyone.
The physicians, the local healing woman, the priests,
and nothing had worked to this point.
She was probably open to any idea that would help her daughter.
Even going to some itinerant healing rabbi of the Jewish people.
She was open and determined to help her daughter out from under the oppression of an unclean spirit.
So when he, Jesus, degrades her by metaphorically calling her a dog,
she still doesn't let that stand in her way.
She responds in a way that even opens HIS eyes.
There was certainly a natural order to whom got fed first,
adults and children, then animals.
But even still, there is something available for the animals.
And her openness, her faith in her daughter's ability to be well,
her faith in the idea that this man, this itinerant Jewish rabbi,
could save her daughter
allows for a miracle to happen.
She is open. He is opened.
Her daughter is opened to a new life in the world without the demon.

Ephphatha. Be opened.

The deaf man had been closed off to the sounds of the world
ever since he was born.
Hence, he had an impediment in his speech,
he tried to make the same sounds, the same shapes he could see other people's mouths making,
but he couldn't hear them properly,
so he couldn't say things properly.
He was closed off to the conversations going on all around him,
all the time, cut out from the world of sound.
Yet, he has some friends, some family,
someone cared enough about him to think of him when they heard about Jesus,
about this healing rabbi who was traveling in their area,
and they bring the deaf man to Jesus.
They must have cared a great deal about this deaf man,
because whoever it was that brought him,
begged Jesus to heal him.
Jesus didn't heal everyone who was brought to him.
He healed many.
But there was no shortage of broken and hurting people in the ancient Judean world
and he only had so much time.
But their faith in him, their faith in this deaf man's openness to hearing,
convinced Jesus to take him aside and open up his ears,
to open up his tongue,
so that he could communicate with the world and be open to the sounds around him.

Ephphatha. Be opened.

When I was working as a seminarian in a church in Chattanooga Tennessee,
The diocese was going through the conversations around same gender marriages.
The church I was working at had many vocal people on all sides of the conversation.
The matriarch of the parish, one of the oldest female members of the church,
was violently opposed to the idea.
Mostly because of some traumatic experiences she and her family had had in the past.
Another member, one of the Vestry, was a partnered lesbian woman,
who wanted to have a family and raise her children at that church.
Needless to say, there was a lot of high emotion around the issue.
So the rector held an open parish conversation evening and a good portion of the congregation showed up.
It was a long evening
spent listening to many different opinions and stories and feelings,
unfortunately including some yelling and some tears,
but throughout the whole evening, we sat and we listened.
We tried to be open with each other.
We hear each other stories.
And some healing happened.
I won't say that everyone was happy after that evening.
Certainly some people were not.
But I can say that the life of the congregation was strengthened.
Was opened.
People were more open with each other after that day,
they had shared their stories and shared their lives with each other.
They were more open to the experiences of the other.
One sign of that, a few months later, when the partnered lesbian Vestry member announced that she was pregnant,
the matriarch of the parish, threw a baby shower for the Vestry member.
We were all opened to the movement of the Holy Spirit.
We were open to the faith that we can still be one Church,
even if we don't always agree.

Ephphatha. Be opened.

Jesus calls to us.
Here and now.
Ephphatha. Be opened.
In whatever struggles we are experiencing,
long term ones like the deaf man or the woman with the demon possessed daughter,
short term struggles, like an illness or a bad situation, or community conflict,
be open to God.
Sometimes being open to God, being healed by God, doesn't mean our troubles go away.
Sometimes being open means instead
being open to the opportunities and lessons
present in the situations in which we find ourselves.
We all have moments in our lives when we act deaf or blind,
we all have moments in our lives when we don't seem like ourselves,
instead being possessed by anger or fear or ignorance.
Jesus is waiting for us to ask, to admit we need help,
and then with compassion, he will open us up.
Ephphatha, be opened.
And we will see, we will hear, we will find our hearts moved.

It is a funny ancient Aramaic word, Ephphatha.
Try to say it with me: Ephphatha. Ephphatha.
It has a lot of "h" in it. A lot of breath.
Ephphatha.
Breath is the opening of the Holy Spirit.
Be opened to the movement of the Holy Spirit.
Take this word with you this week, Ephphatha.
Where does Jesus need to speak this word in your life?
Be opened my friends.
As we start our new program year,
as we go back to work or back to activities of the fall,
take Ephphatha with you.
What needs to be opened to God?

Ephphatha. Be opened.
Amen.



Thursday, September 6, 2018

Rally Day 2018 God's Work. Our Hands.


This coming Sunday is Rally Day! The Sunday in which we kick off our program year at St. John's and Grace. This year we start the program off with a Community Service Project; we will be making Care Packages for the Homeless. The list of items we need is below. We start off the year remembering Jesus' service to those in his community and his care for all those around him. We follow in his footsteps and we offer our gifts and services to those in need in our community. In doing this community service project, we also allow the members of Grace Lutheran to participate in the national Lutheran "God's work. Our hands." day this Sunday. In Jesus God promises to be with us always and to help us in times of need. However, sometimes we have to be the hands which do God's work. St. Teresa of Avila wrote,

Christ Has No Body

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

We celebrate today by sharing the gifts we have through God by doing God's work in this world in caring for others.

Paradox


the terrifying passionate tension
of loving and hating in the same moment

the mind boggling twist
of light, both wave and particle

intercepted as both sound and sight
the shaking aftermath of rage

I give my body to the night
the darkness which is not judgment
but rather thought

9/7/17

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Proper 17B


Human relationships are complicated.
We can leave that statement as fact just the way it is.
Most human relationships fall into one of three categories,
though even these broad categories don't always catch everyone in our lives.
We have acquaintances,
we have friends,
and we have "family".

Acquaintances are those people we know through social events, 
through work, through groups
and we only talk to them in those contexts.
We don't usually go out of our way for acquaintances the way we would for friends or family,
but we could chit chat with them in some capacity.
Our relationships with them are characterized by the social laws and rules of the context in which we know them.

Friends are those people we spend time together with on a mutual basis.
We like them, we know something more about them.
We might share funny emails with them or call them occasionally,
We would know if they became ill or lost their dog.
Our relationships with friends are characterized by trust and mutual respect.

"Family" is not necessarily just those we are blood related to.
Family are those people we couldn't live without.
The people we talk to every day because we want to talk to them everyday.
The people who we love deeply and are bonded to,
the people we would do anything for.
Our relationships with family are characterized by faith in them and by understanding.

Of course, some of our blood family might only be acquaintances or friends,
some of our friends are more like family,
yet typically most of the people in our lives can be categorized in one of these genres.

One of the biggest questions Jesus poses to the people listening to him
is where is God in your life in these categories?
Is God an acquaintance? Is God a friend?
Is God part of your family?
What kind of relationship do you have with God?

This is the argument we see Jesus and the Pharisees get into today in the Gospel of Mark.
The Pharisees and Jesus have very different understandings of what our relationships with God should look like.

For the Pharisees, relationship with God was determined by the rules in the Torah.
Orthodox Jewish practice has always been very strict about rules around the body.
These bodies of ours are not clean, not polite, not pure
and so there are rules to keep us as close as we can be, despite our weaknesses.
The Pharisees were one of the major groups of devout Jewish men in the first century
and they were the rule followers.
They stuck to every rule they could find in the Bible and the tradition
in order to stay as pure as they could be.
They were letter of the law men.
Cross every t, dot every i.
This is why they get upset with Jesus' disciples when they see what they are doing.
They are eating without washing their hands!
Their hands are dirty!
The disciples are breaking the rules, they are eating with their hands dirty.
(Miss Manners would also not approve.)
Hands must be washed before eating.
Naturally there are some very good reasons for this rule.
Washing your hands before you eat
helps keep dirt, germs, and other toxins outside of the body,
so that they don't contaminate us.
Yet, when Jesus is confronted with their lack of discipline,
he takes the situation to a higher level.
All the Pharisees are complaining about is that their hands are dirty.
Yet, the real gist of the matter has nothing to do with dirty hands.
While the Pharisees are worried about the disciples not following the rules,
Jesus doesn't really care that much about following human rules.
Jesus is more interested in their relationship with God.

I don't know if you've noticed this before,
but Jesus is all about relationships.
I mean, we are talking about the man who prays to God
and effectively addresses God as the Aramaic version of Daddy.
He habitually talks about God as his Father
in a very personal way.
He shows a deeply personal relationship with God.
And he wants his disciples to have that kind of relationship as well.
When he teaches them to pray, 
he starts with "Our Father,"
he wants them to have deeply personal relationships with God as well.
Its always about relationships with Jesus.

In their adherence and strictness for the rules,
the Pharisees betray only an acquaintance relationship with God.
they are stuck on the rules and regulations of the context of the Temple,
showing no great relationship with God in their hearts.
It is, of course, a generalization to say that this is the way all of the Pharisees were,
however, as a group, this is the way they are portrayed. 
This is what Jesus laments in his quote from Isaiah (29:13 LXX).
The Pharisees put the rules created by humans
ahead of having a relationship with God.
They go about their lives, fulfilling the rules, but not knowing God in their hearts.

This passage begs a question of us then,
where are we in our relationship with God?
Is God an acquaintance?
Is God a friend?
Is God in your family? Is God in your heart?

No matter where we find ourselves, 
thankfully we are in relationship with God in some way.
Always open to us are the steps forward,
the relationship building practices and invitation for more.
If rules are useful, healthy, and good for your relationship with God,
then they are there to help you.
If the rules get in your way of your relationship with God,
then they don't matter as much.
What Jesus wants for us is to follow the two greatest commandments,
to love God with all our hearts, with all our souls, with all our minds, and with all our strength,
and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Which are no small feat on their own. 
Loving God can take a long time to learn to do.
Not that anyone would admit to not loving God in a church,
but in the real way of love, not all of us are there in our relationships with God.
Many of us have been hurt, many of us are scared, many of us are uncertain.
It is enough work to try to love God and love our neighbors,
with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength, 
which are only two of the six hundred and thirteen laws in the Hebrew Bible. 

Have no worries,
God is waiting for you.
Waiting to take your relationship to the next step,
wanting for you to know Him more fully.
How can you step closer in relationship with God today?

Amen.