Thursday, January 18, 2018

Anger as a Blessing

"Can I say that curse word now?" - Anger, Disney Pixar's Inside Out

The biblical examples of anger, wrath, and ire are awe inspiring. The sheer volume of fire, famine, earth-shaking, and tempest that is attributed to God's anger is impressive. It's no wonder people are afraid of God, the ancient writers attributed a lot of disasters to God punishing the people. I say attributed, because many times God speaks anger and disappointment, but then forgives the people and does not punish the people. Many times also in the biblical stories, the real reasons for the disasters which came upon the Israelite people were from other people, who did not follow the ways of God.

Anger is one of the strongest human emotions. It is an acceptable emotion, as long as it is people are still accountable and use their anger energy in good directed ways. We all sometimes feel the need to release our anger in inappropriate ways, yet, anger is an emotion which can tell us necessary information about ourselves. Many times the reasons we get angry have to do with values, boundaries, or expectations which we feel have been broken or not met. Sometimes those values, boundaries, or expectations are ideas we have in our own heads which other people have no idea about or are not appropriate for the current situation. Getting curious about why you are experiencing anger is one of the best ways of learning what is truly going on.


When have you gotten angry this week? What is God shining light on in your life which might need some more grace? Take a moment to think about when or where or how or why you've been angry lately? What is God pointing out to you? Knowing our own emotions better enables us to respond to other people's emotions and to build better relationships.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Listening is Hard

Shhh....

What do you hear?

(Silence)

(Silence)

(Silence)

Have you ever heard of the musical piece,
Four Thirty Three by John Cage?
It is a contemporary piece,
known to call into question the very nature of music.
It also, interestingly enough,
calls into question the very nature of silence.

Because
the piece, Four Thirty Three (4'33")
can be given by any musician at any time.
All the performer has to do is prepare,
and wait
in silence for
four minutes and thirty three seconds.

Cage, the composer
wanted to bring the audience's attention
to the ambient noise
being made throughout a performance
the wind
people whispering
movement of clothing
He wanted to think about what makes intentional music different
than the music we hear all around us
all day
every day.

The brain is always processing sound waves around us
turning noise into recognizable voices.
Hearing is easy.
Our brains do it for us.
All day
every day.

However,
listening is not so easy.
Listening is different from hearing.
Listening is the active intentional focus
on what we hear
bringing the full capacity of our conscious thought
into recognizing,
and creating patterns,
making sense of symbolism,
and responding to the sounds we hear.

The piece, Four Thirty Three
creates the space for the audience
to bring into focus
the sounds they are hearing all around them
and listen to them
instead of simply hearing them.

Listening is in fact a spiritual discipline
Listening as a requirement for a follower of Jesus
comes right out of the Bible.
Take our gospel passage for today.
If Philip hadn't been paying attention to what Jesus was saying
or if Nathanael hadn't been focusing on what Philip was telling him
if they hadn't been able to fully respond to Jesus
their lives would have been very different.
Even better!
Take the first reading for today,
from First Samuel.
Samuel was described as a boy,
which means he was less than thirteen years old.
He is serving one of the priests of the temple at Shiloh
a man named Eli.
Now the temple at Shiloh was most probably a big tent
where the religious ceremonies were held.
The story we heard today was from the third chapter,
and the first two chapters of the book set up how Samuel became a servant of the priest,
there's a great story about his mother,
and the song she sings which is the Old Testament precursor
to the Magnificant, when she finds out about Jesus.
The second chapter also covers the whole situation
with Eli's two sons
and the first prophecy which Eli receives
about the problematic behavior of his sons.
Despite the sins of the sons,
Eli does seem to be a good priest.

After Samuel runs to him multiple times
thinking he has called him,
Eli recognizes that it must be God calling who is calling Samuel.
He instructs Samuel to listen to God.
And when the Word of the Lord which Samuel hears
is against Eli and his sons
Eli listens to the vision and accepts it
because it was the Lord.
Both Samuel and Eli
are great examples of practicing listening.

As the rest of the reading we heard says,
Samuel went on to be a great prophet,
well known throughout the history of Israel,
and listening 
is what opens the stage for his grand life as the last of the judges of Israel.
Listening to God.

Listening
is having open ears
is having open hearts
is paying attention
and when you are listening,
you are more likely to hear important messages,
learn of opportunities,
hear God calling you by name.

Samuel, Samuel!
Philip!
Nathanael!
Kaycee!
Jim!
Susie!

God calls us in the night... like Samuel
God calls us in dreams... like Joseph or the Magi
God calls us through others... such as Philip and Nathanael
God calls us in situations where we have to do the right things
God calls us through songs
God calls us through our passions - whether for or against something which speaks to us strongly

When we are truly listening
we will be amazed what we can hear.
No longer do the cheap gimmicks
of smooth persuasive talking convince us.
No longer does the devil's hate or fear
incite us to feelings unbecoming of a follower of Jesus.
When we are truly listening
we can hear Jesus calling to us
asking us to follow his word and example
to follow him
in all the ways in which he leads
in giving up of ourselves
and in focusing on others.

How do we get to the be truly listening?
Being mindful of what we are hearing.
What did you hear earlier in the silence?
What do you hear when you are talking to a friend
or a family member?
What do you hear when you are talking to your spouse?
Do you hear what they are saying?
Do you hear only what you want to hear?
That is not truly listening.

When we are truly listening
we connect with other people
and the world around us in ways we had not before.
We are intimately aware of our humanity
and our relationship with others and the world
In ways many have forgotten.
When we truly listen
we are better able to pray
to what we are saying to God
and listen to what God is saying to us.

Spend some time in silence this week.
Spend some time listening deeply.
Listen to what your heart is telling you.
Listen to what your mind is telling you.
Listen to what God is telling you.
And when Jesus reaches out his hand and says,
Follow me,
Listen, 
and follow.
Amen.



Thursday, January 11, 2018

Inside Out

"Do you ever look at someone and wonder, what is going on inside their head?"
- Joy, Disney Pixar's "Inside Out"

One of the things I wonder the most about is what is going on inside other people's minds. I find my own mind fascinating and I imagine that what goes on in other people's minds is fascinating too. As I have grown older, I have learned so much about what goes on in my mind and how it impacts what I do, who I am, and how I respond in certain circumstances. I am surprised how often I have epiphanies about my own emotions which lead to better understanding of other people's actions.

The season after Epiphany is a time of learning new things. The lectionary takes us through stories of the disciples having epiphanies about who Jesus is and why he does what he does. Some of this learning takes place in seeing something new of Jesus, some of it takes place through examining their own understandings of themselves and Jesus. Through their own emotions and reactions, the disciples learn how much they need Jesus and how amazing God's gift of grace really is.

One of the best movies I have seen which shows the ways spiritual and emotional growth are tied together and shows the epiphanies needed to learn along the way is Disney Pixar's "Inside Out." If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend taking the time to watch it. While through the guise of watching a girl transition by moving to a new home and growing up, we get to meet the emotions inside her head, in the forms of Disgust, Fear, Anger, Sadness, and Joy, all of whom have different perspectives and ideas.


Disgust in the movie is characterized by a green lady who has lots of opinions, high expectations, short patience, and is very protective. Her characterization matches up with how many people experience the emotion of disgust, feelings of needing protection from whatever is disgusting us, reacting when circumstances don't meet our expectations, and finding ways to express our opinions, both in words, inflection, and action. Try an experiment, see where disgust shows up in your life this week. What does disgust teach you about your relationships with others and your relationship with God?

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The Feast of the Epiphany

Happy Feast of the Epiphany!
Otherwise known as 
the Feast of the Three Old Wise Guys...
You know,
John Wayne, Quentin Tarantino, and Clint Eastwood
Oh! wait, not those wise guys!

While we have no idea if the magi who showed up
to honor Jesus as a little child
were men, or wise, or kings, or other political or religious officials
or even if there were three of them,

Traditionally, the Magi are 
Casper from Arabia, 
Melchior from Persia, 
and Balthazar from India.

And of course, we don't know how the three of them ended up together,
or at least, showing up in Bethlehem around the same time.

Yet, we celebrate this story of Epiphany
because it is the first 
in a long, long, series of stories
about people recognizing Jesus
as the Son of God,
the Savior.

And it has such valuable political ramifications
that it has been used in situations 
over and over again
as a story of the subversion of political rule
by religious authorities.

This story sets up a drastic dichotomy
between the King set up by the Romans
and the King set up by God.
This is going to be a continuing struggle 
throughout Jesus' life
and the gospel of Matthew
and the understanding of his followers.

King Herod
while officially being King of the Jews
under, of course, the Emperor Augustus,
was by no means
well known for being a good Jew.

Case and point,
he doesn't even know where the Messiah is supposed to be born.
You know,
the One everyone was waiting for...
He tries to be a Jew
some of the time
but most of the time 
he spent his time caring about building grand structures
brutally ruling his kingdom
and being very suspicious of everyone around him.

In summary,
The political reality of the time in Judea
was
"Not Good."

Into this reality,
God sends his only Son,
Jesus
as a vulnerable, helpless baby.

And who comes to greet him
a new King 
three foreign magi.

These three men were probably political or religious officials
they were people with power
they were the people in charge
of something, we don't know if they had kingdoms or congregations or what
but, they were somebodies.

And they probably had people over them,
kings or high priests
who they owed allegiance to 
so the fact that they go on a special journey to find a new ruler
a new King
and one just born as a baby
portrays some serious significance.

Either these men came on their own,
showing disloyalty to their previous kings
or their rulers were recognizing Jesus
as the true King of the Jews.
Foreign rulers often sent ambassadors to greet and give gifts to other new rulers.
Precious metals
costly spices
were appropriate gifts for a new ruler.

Can you imagine any of our political leaders these days
going to look for a higher ruler
who shows up as a baby?

Most of our current political officials
would rather be the center of attention,
power and authority 
at all times
in all places

Our political leaders do not always know how to accept another's jurisdiction
Yet these three (or maybe even more)
wise men
(they are wise in so many ways)
they recognize Jesus' 
power and authority
they recognize their own place
in this great universe

Herod
unfortunately
has a hard time recognizing anyone else's power or authority
he wasn't always that great at following his Emperor's commands
and he eventually had restrictions placed upon him because of how he ruled
and he certainly didn't behave in a way to let anyone around him have any control over him
People who got close to him 
were likely to end up dead.
He tries to run a con
a trick
to find out where this new king is
so that he can destroy
this new threat to his rule.

Yet God takes care of his Son
protects him by reaching out to the wise men
and sending them home in a different way. 

Matthew wants us to know how amazing this baby being born really is
No only are there angels
but there are foreign kings
there is recognition on the world stage
that this baby is the King of the Jews
its a political statement
totally against the Roman Empire

The gospels were very subversive material
banned books type stuff

Its no wonder the Roman Empire cracked down on Christianity in the first few centuries
listening to this story doesn't give the same potency as it would have had then
people are forever saying things like the president has no claim to being president
And even people saying that Queen Elizabeth is not the real queen of Britain
aren't likely to be as taken seriously as they used to

But the change in the balance of power and authority in this story
is magnificent

This story is about a reversal of the world power structure
Matthew is telling us quite clearly
that Herod has no real power or authority
that with the recognition of the wise men of Jesus
all political and religious authorities and hierarchies
have no power
they have no basis
that Jesus
is God's answer to our power struggles

All of our power struggles.

Our power struggles in ourselves
our power struggles in our homes
our power struggles in our neighborhoods
our power struggles in our town
our power struggles in our state
our power struggles in our country
and our power struggles in the world.

We believe in a God who is above all these powers
We believe in a God who can change our hearts and minds
We believe in a God who can work miracles
even through and in our ordinary lives

The Magi make a choice
They could have given into the power system of Judea at that time
they could have reported Jesus
back to Herod
they could have ignored the dream
and reported the new King

Yet they stuck to their values
they stuck with their integrity
they followed God
who spoke to them in a dream
and they made a different choice

Sometimes we think we have no choice
in the power structures and systems we are in
but we do have choices
there are always consequences
but following God 
is always the best choice

The gospel according to Matthew is a book full of tension. 
Matthew wanted people to live by the Jewish traditions and customs. 
He wanted many things to stay the same, 
yet 
he also was writing to share the story of something entirely new, 
something subversive which was going to change everything.

The story of the Magi,
whether true or not,
is really about the status of Jesus

it is meant to give us insight into
who Jesus is
and foresight into what he is going to do.

This is not the only time Jesus is in opposition with a Roman ruler
Though only a baby in this story,
his response is pretty much the same
he gives himself up
innocent and loving.

Using power to fight power
is not the example Jesus gives us.
In this story, and throughout the gospel stories,
Jesus never uses his power as God Incarnate
to overrule the Romans
to fight against the Sanhedrin
to change the Pharisees, Sadducees, the priests, the scribes...
or anyone's mind.

I imagine he could have
he might even have been tempted to do so.

But he never used his power,

he worked within the limitations of humanity
he kept his integrity
he worked with his values
he loved
he cared
he discussed
he healed
he questioned
he loved
those were the powers he used

Those are the powers 
we have 
that we can use.
Even if you feel like you are powerless against the authorities
even if you feel like you are powerless against the changes going on in the world
even if you feel like you are powerless to make any difference in this world
you have the power to love
you have the power to care
you have the power to ask questions
you have the power to heal
you have the power to forgive
you have the power to pray
you have the power to love
Through Christ, we have the power to change the world.

Amen.






Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Feast of Epiphany


O God, by the leading of a star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (The Feast of the Epiphany, BCP 214)

Come and celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany with us this Sunday. During the formation hour (9:00 am), we are going to be putting on a pageant for anyone and everyone to participate in and enjoy. Hear and see a story about the Three Magi, or Wise Men, who journey far to see the Son of God as a baby. Help put together House Blessing Bags for everyone to take home and bless their houses. Taste the deliciousness of King Cake and perhaps find a special treat!


I hope you'll join us in celebrating the Feast of the Epiphany. Seeing Jesus can be very hard through all the difficulties, troubles, and hatred in this world, yet, Jesus is with us. Ready to be seen at any moment. The Season of Epiphany will take us through stories of seeing Jesus for who he really is and teach us how to see Jesus in our own lives. Have you worried He is not with you? Jesus is always with us!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Christmas Eve Joint Service

Children's Sermon

To start the sermon this evening, I'd like to have all the children, and children at heart, join me at the front of the church. 

Good evening.
Are you all excited about Christmas Eve?
(Yes!)

Do you know the story for tonight?

A long time ago, there was a little boy who was born who was named Jesus. 
Jesus was God's Son.
And when he was born,
Angels from heaven told a bunch of sheep and shepherds that he had been born 
and to go visit Jesus
and then to tell everyone else.

See angels are messengers
and their job is to bring people good news

So I need your help tonight.
Have you seen the Creche over there?
It is a picture of the story I just told you.
It has Jesus as a baby, and his mother and Joseph and angels...
but it doesn't have all the sheep.
I brought a whole flock of sheep with me tonight to be part of the story, 
but they scattered all over the church! 
See they have been here before and they decided to wander all over.

So, You all are going to have to be like the angels
Go find the sheep and bring them to see Jesus.
I want you to tell any sheep you find that they need to see Jesus.

We are going to bring all the sheep up here to the front, in front of the creche.

We can be like the angels
what do the angels in the story do?

They tell the sheep and the shepherds
about Jesus!

Can we tell other people about Jesus?
(yes!)
How exciting it is that he was born?
(yes!)
Can we be angels, messengers telling people good news?
(Yes!)

Thank you all for your help!
Be an angel this Christmas season, tell them about the good news of Jesus!
Here is an angel to help you remember.
What is your job?

Go!

transition to pulpit

Lets be honest,
the rest of you wanted to be finding sheep and getting angel stickers,
didn't you?

Well, I'll tell you,
you too can still be an angel
you too can still go share the good news with God's sheep
out there in the world.

Also, I have enough stickers for everyone, 
see me after the service if you'd like one.

The Christmas story speaks for itself.
We come together 
to celebrate this story of Jesus' birth
over and over and over again
year after year
you'd think we would know the story by now
get tired and bored of this whole Christmas thing
but we don't
because we need the reminder
year after year
of the great love
which God gives us.

We still have governments which like to control and change our lives
disrupting our plans and dreams
I assume Mary didn't really want to have her baby in a barn
and to have to lay him in a manger
his first day in the world
She probably had had arrangements with her family and the local midwife in Nazareth
but the government doesn't care that she is going to have a baby
so off they go to Bethlehem.

We still live in a world
where travelers, refugees, and visitors
find themselves with no place to go
because others are not hospitable
whether out of fear or anger or scarcity.

We still live in a world where thousands of babies are born
each year
in non-sanitary situations
because of lack of health care, money, or education.

We still live in a world
where the differences between light and darkness
make huge changes in people's lives
and where angels are needed to share Good News
because no one else is there to do it.

Thankfully, despite our continuing brokenness
God continues to be born into our world
coming each year as Jesus,
born in a manger,
and coming each day,
into our hearts through the power of the Holy Spirit.

When I think of this story
as a metaphor
when I think of where 
we 
belong in this story
I see most human beings being one of three characters:
Sheep
Shepherds,
or Angels.

Interestingly enough
I counted
there are 8 sheep in the Tiffany Windows,
1 shepherd,
and 13 angels.
In case you get bored, you can check my counting.

The sheep are the people out there that hear the message from the angels
but don't listen to it,
can't really hear it
some of them appear at the nativity scene in Bethlehem,
but they are really only there as tag-alongs
they came because the shepherds came
but they have no idea what is going on.
We might have some sheep with us today
those here out of family obligation, tag-alongs,
not believing, not paying attention, but present.

The shepherds are the people who have heard the good news and believe.
They want to see this good news in person. 
I'm sure we have many shepherds here tonight,
people who have come to see Jesus
here, as a little baby boy,
born and living in the church.

And then there are the angels
they are the ones who go out and tell the good news
They don't need to hang around and stare at Jesus
they recognize him
they rejoice in his presence
and then they go share that with everyone!
We may even have some angels among us
those whose real Christmas celebration 
is not here
but out in the world
where they share the good news with others
rejoicing in the great love God has shared with us
and wanting everyone else to share in that same joy.

Any of us could be angels.
Messengers to another
sharing good news about and from God
What do you think it took for those angels to share this message?
I mean, for a human being to be so excited
requires no shame, no worries about being vulnerable
no holding back out of shyness or fear
Those angels are bold!
They are excited!
They have GOOD NEWS!
after all
who wouldn't want to hear this message
but we know
not everyone is open to hearing the message about Jesus

I mean, the first response to the angel even showing up
was terror.
That's the world those shepherds lived in.
Really, that's the world we live in.
Someone comes with great light and good news
and our first response is
terror.

So much so that it is plainly apparent.
The angel's first words are
"Do not be afraid"
Much of what was qualified as good news
then and now
is not always good news for all of us.

However, this message
is good news for all of us.

Say if we were to go out into the world
if we were to be an angel this day
sharing good news of great joy
some of the people we tell
might be terrified
some of them might be mystified
some of them might not listen,
but some
some might listen
someone might believe
someone might see Jesus for the first time
as a baby
as their savior
someone might find joy and peace and love
experiencing those wonderful emotions
for the first time in their lives
isn't that worth the story

We can all go out and share the good news
actually you're much more likely to experience God out there in the world
beyond this room
than here
though my hope is that you'll experience it in both places
experience
the love
the joy
of Jesus' birth.

I'd like to end with a prayer, 
written by Robert Louis Stevenson, 
the famous author who wrote Treasure Island 
and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. 
He wrote this for Christmas Day. 

"Loving Father, Help us remember the birth of Jesus, that we may share in the song of angels, the gladness of the shepherds, and the worship of the wise men. Close the door of hate and open the door of love all over the world. Let kindness come with every gift and good desires with every greeting. Deliver us from evil by the blessing which Christ brings, and teach us to be merry with clean hearts. May the Christmas morning make us happy to be Thy children, and the Christmas evening bring us to our beds with grateful thoughts, forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus' sake, Amen!"


Thursday, December 28, 2017

Christmas Reflection

Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP 213)

Merry Christmas! Joy to the World!

I hope this Christmas season may be one of joy and grace for you as we celebrate the love of God which has saved us,
even when we are constantly in need of saving from only ourselves.

May light and hope enter your heart, that you may see Christ in all who are around you!