Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Letting go of Expectations

The Third Sunday of Advent

One of the many museums I have been to in my life is the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston, Texas. Before I started my last job in Houston, I spent a week setting up my apartment and trying to get to know the city a little bit. I had plenty of expectations about what moving to Texas was going to be like, but part of that first week, I was trying to figure out if those expectations were correct or not. The Museum district in Houston has plenty of museums to choose from and I wandered in and out of a number of them. In the Contemporary Arts Museum though is where I started to realize that many of my expectations were going to be broken, had to be let go of. In its halls were a dizzying array of abstract art compilations, pieces made out of trash, graffiti type works, and a number of things that I stared at, simply wondering what I was looking at. I’m still not sure I understand all of what I saw that day.

We all move through our lives with plenty of expectations. We all have different expectations when it comes to the Christmas Holiday season. We have expectations about what we want our decorations to look like, what we want to have for our special meals, what we expect to receive and how much and so on. We are really good at creating expectations out of what has happened in the past and what we wish would happen. Any time we walk into a room, we bring with ourselves expectations. Its interesting that expectation setting is a natural default. We anticipate something coming in the future and we imagine what is going to happen or how it will look or who will be involved. And yet, our expectations do not always line up with reality. A huge part of what it means to cope with our lives means letting go of expectations - usually around how other people are going to behave. We cannot control anyone else's behavior, no matter how hard we try. Any parent who has had a toddler knows this well. Toddlers look adorable but they can be hell in tottering new shoes. Letting go of expectations can be really hard. We get emotionally attached to our imagination of how things will go. Openness to the  new and unexpected is scary. Sometimes quite literally hard pounding, pulse racing, scary.

The Israelites had been waiting for a Messiah for hundreds of years. They had been waiting so long they were starting to forget what they were truly waiting for in a Messiah, at least by the way the New Testament writers describe the crowds. There were so many layers of expectations and so many different perspectives and hopes and dreams, that to fulfill everybody's wishes would be contradictory and quite impossible. Luckily, Jesus didn't set out to fulfill all the expectations of the people of Israel throughout the centuries. Jesus had a very different mission in Palestine in the first century.

We can see this tension in the gospel passage from Matthew this morning. John the Baptist, who has known that Jesus was the Messiah since before he was born, starts to question and have doubts about what is going on. There are expectations that are not being met, whether they were cultural expectations or personal expectations for John, he obviously has a moment in which he seeks clarity. But since John is in prison at this point in his life, he has to send his disciples in order to find out any answers. Jesus, almost naturally, doesn't give any clear straightforward answers. That is not how Jesus works.

John receives an unexpected message from Jesus through his disciples. I can imagine them going back to John, "John, we talked to Jesus. He didn't say yes or no. He said we had to report what we heard and saw. 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. Oh, and blessed are those who take no offense at him. That's what he said. What does that mean?" And John, scratching his head, "Hmmm... well..." and we don't know how he felt about this answer, we don't know whether his doubts and his questions were assuaged at that moment. We don't know whether or not that is what he was expecting the Messiah to do. Jesus and John were obviously on the same page about some things, but naturally as leaders and different men, they had some differences of opinion. Jesus sends John's disciples back to him with out a positive or negative answer. Again, against expectations. Jesus points to those things are the fruits of his labor. The actions that point to his real mission and his intention. The actions that show exactly who he is. Jesus never tries to force anyone into anything. He allows people to make their own decisions about himself. Jesus tells John's disciples to tell John what they see and hear. Jesus knows that whatever he says could be misconstrued. The Pharisees and the other religious leaders are looking for reasons to imprison him.

Jesus questions the crowds about their expectations as well. About John specifically, but also in a way about himself. Many of the people in the crowd that is with him at the time had gone to see John. What were all those normal regular people's expectations of what was going on? What were they looking for? We have to ask ourselves the same things. What are we looking for in our leaders, in our sages, in our heroes? If we are looking for rich celebrities in pricey garments, certainly the world has found them for us! If we are looking for those who seek and speak the truth, well, then, we need to look somewhere else! John was sent as a messenger, to speak the truth, to show the way, to prepare the people for what was to come next. John wasn't sent to do miracles, to overturn the political system, or to overthrow the religious authorities. And neither was Jesus.

Jesus’ way of answering John’s question is very important. For John to truly accept Jesus as the Messiah, John needs to make that decision on his own. He has to let go of his expectations of what the Messiah is going to do and allow the Messiah to work his wisdom in the world. In this way John is also a role model for us. We too are going to have to accept Jesus for who he is, without all of our expectations. If we are truly going to be able to welcome and accept Jesus, into our hearts, into our lives, into our world, this year and every year, we are going to have to let go of our expectations of what he is supposed to do.

Some of us are better at letting go of our expectations. As we age, we naturally have to start letting go of some of the things we used to be able to do all the time. Our expectations about what our bodies are able to do and handle change, sometimes through our own mental changes, and sometimes the harsh reality of what we are able to do changes our minds for us. There is great wisdom in listening and paying attention to what our bodies are telling us they can and cannot handle. There is great wisdom in learning how to let go of our expectations, especially around control, in our lives.


This week, as we move ever more closer to the birth of Jesus in our lives, look at your expectations of what Christmas will bring for you. God does not always come into our lives in expected ways. What do we expect of Jesus? How are we open to the coming of Jesus and his mission in our lives? Have you, like John, been putting expectations on the work of the Messiah? Examine your hearts and minds and let go of those expectations. Open up space for Jesus to come and work wonders beyond all expectations. God can do more than we could ever possibly imagine and for that we give great thanks. Amen.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven has come near!

Second Sunday of Advent
Year A

Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven has come near!

What a promise! What a call! What a loaded statement. Thank you, John the Baptist.

Last week in the sermon, I talked about Jesus’ reminder to keep awake. Keeping awake and paying attention to every moment of our lives can be a very hard thing to do. However, the riches to be gained from such a practice are plentiful. By keeping awake, by paying attention to the moments of our lives, we see things we may have never seen before. We see God at work in our lives in new ways, in places we never thought God would venture. We see connections we may have missed before, between other people and ourselves. We see how we imitate our parents, probably way too much, not only in their sayings and gestures, but in the way we handle our emotions. We notice how our own bodies react and respond to what is going on around us and how that affects our daily lives. Our bodies are great at taking overloaded stress from one area of our lives and trying to off load it in another.

When we start to notice all these things, we probably start to notice a bunch of things we are doing that we don’t necessarily want to be doing. We want to be open, to other people, to love, to the Holy Spirit, but instead, we notice how we find ways to shut others out or to close ourselves off from the Spirit. Like the passage in Romans in which Paul complains that he does what he does not want to do and cannot do that which he wants to do, sometimes keeping awake in watching our own lives simply leads us to realize we are not doing what we thought we were or want to be doing.

There is a system in this. We cannot be open to others or God in our lives without cleaning up all that clogs our systems. If you go to clean your shower, but can’t because there is standing water in it, you have to first address the clogged drain. It makes no sense to clean things out of order... then you just make other things dirty. If all your dish cloths are dirty, you can't get a clean dish. You have to start with the laundry, clean the dish cloth, then clean the dishes, then of course do more laundry... the process continues. In order to be open, we have to make sure our hearts and minds are open.

Cleaning up our hearts and minds is exactly what John the Baptist is calling us to today. Repentance is a process of cleaning up, cleaning out, making sure things are open and working. Repentance is the process of cleaning out our interpersonal, relationship, and spiritual systems. Nowadays, we typically use the word reconciliation to talk about repentance. The Catholics still have Confession, but in the Protestant churches, we talk about reconciliation. Have you ever felt that gut feeling of unease when you are in a guilt trip with yourself? Or the tension in a relationship where you know things are not right between you? Or that buildup of frustration in prayer that comes from feeling hurt, let down, or confused about what is going on? Yes? Those are all reasons we need repentance, reconciliation.

Repent, in the Hebrew, literally means to turn around. Repent and return are pretty much the same verb, at least in the Hebrew. We are not great anymore at focusing on one thing at a time. We learn early how to be multitaskers. Like a panoramic or fish eye photo, we want to see and do everything all at the same time. But paying attention requires focusing on one thing at a time. Taking time to focus on repentance leads to cleaner, happier, more fruitful relational and spiritual lives. Repentance is the contrition and act of confessing our sins. We follow through with our repentance in reconciliation when we reconnect with the people and things we have hurt. How can we be excited and prepared for God's coming if we are in tension with God? It's like preparing your house for the coming of an unwanted or disliked relative or guest. It's not joyful, it's frustrating, it's annoying! God's coming should not be like that!

Many times we want to forget the unpleasant things that have happened in the past. We want to move on, move forward, start over. But sometimes we have to return to what is behind us in order to move forward, especially if it is pulling us back or clogging our systems. What John is calling for isn't easy. In the Anglican tradition, this is the reason we say the general confession every week. Because we know that we are always messing up, always making mistakes, always trying to run from things we do not want to face. So every week we come here together, to worship, to pray, to praise God, and yes, to confess, to repent, to turn away from our sinful decisions and to return to walking the path of God. We may question, do we really need to do this? Lest, you forgot, we already promised we would. We have a baptismal vow about repentance. In our baptisms, we and those who spoke on our behalf were asked, "Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?" And they answered, "I will with God's help." It is not a vow we can accomplish on our own. We have to have the stirrings of God within in us to be able to resist and persevere and repent and return.

In the gospel passage, we see the Pharisees and Sadducees who come to John the Baptist being told off for trying to run away from their past. They feel that they can move forward without dealing with what they have done, but John calls them out on it. They try to justify themselves, but there is no justification. We cannot justify ourselves in our relationships with God. John tells them that they cannot think that God will look past everything that they have done unless they repent. He foretells of some culling to come. He talks about trees being cut down and wheat being processed. They are both metaphors and we are used to certain interpretations of them. But before we jump to the conclusion that some people are going to burn in unquenchable fire, and that this means someone else is going to burn in unquenchable fire, lets think about what chaff actually is. Chaff is a normal part of a wheat plant. Every wheat plant has chaff. Chaff is the part of the wheat stalk that protects the vulnerable inner important fruit. Chaff is a dry protective wall around the fruit of the plant. Like the rind on an orange or watermelon or the husk of an ear of corn. In this metaphor, chaff is effectively the protective walls around each and every one of us that keeps us closed up and away from God. Chaff is those walls we build up around ourselves that clog up our relationship systems. We all need to be processed, stripped of our chaff, pruned of the parts of us that do not bear good fruit, so that what is good inside of us can be seen. We all have chaff that needs to be burned with unquenchable fire so that we can be open and ready for God. Repentance is this process of tearing down, cleaning out, burning the part of us that stands in our way. We have to keep awake in this process, keep vigilance on how what we are saying and doing. Once we acknowledge, confess, repent, we can move forward being open and bearing good fruit. We are called into the future of what is coming. However, we cannot do so until we have opened ourselves to what may come. 

Advent reminds us of that process year after year, calling us to admit our failures of another year, calling us to repent and return to the Lord, calling us to walk into the wilderness of unknowing, waiting, through the difficult times of change. Advent the season of preparation, and part of preparation for something is always cleaning. John calls us to clean out our relationship and spiritual systems. Repent! He says. Prepare! He says. Get Ready! He says, because the completion, the promise of the gift of the Kingdom of Heaven, is near! Is here!


Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven has come near!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Listen

a year, a year!
a year in poetry!
a year of sorrow and joy
of confusion and mission
of tenderness and shame
a year of naming
abstract thoughts that defy
and untold emotions streaming forth from the sky
a year of speaking to myself
a year of writing for my future
a year of sharing of my soul
a year of listening
a year, a year!
a year of uncounted voices
of perspectives unforetold
of lessons I had forgotten
and morals I wish were sold
a year of changes and changelessness
a year of blue hope and hopelessness
of quiet words and tearless cries
a year of what cannot be said
but must, oh must! be shared
because at the last
its only us
we must tell, we must share
in poetry, if nothing else!
please listen, listen
to the secrets under-girding
this year, this year

Monday, November 28, 2016

First Sunday in Advent - Keep Awake For the Unexpected

Have you ever been listening to a piece of music, enjoying the melody, flowing along with it... when all of a sudden the melody completely changed? (Play music https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=moL4MkJ-aLk) Many would describe the way the melody changes in Sir Edward Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1 as sudden. Most people would say that they know the song Pomp and Circumstance, but Sir Elgar actually wrote five different Marches with the same name. The No.1, which we heard, starts with large brass fanfare and a full string melody which includes the musical whip banging in the background before all of a sudden going into the much softer fluid grandeur of the what we all associate with Pomp and Circumstance. Perhaps you could hear the audience's surprise in the form of laughter when the melody suddenly changes. It was an unexpected turn of events. 

We as Christians have gotten so used to the idea of waiting for Jesus to come. Every year we wait, spending Advent waiting for Jesus to be born. We have it timed down to the day. Christmas hardly comes unexpectedly. It's the same day every year. Although as anyone who has any experience with babies being born knows, they can't exactly be timed out naturally. They come when they come. I myself was apparently two weeks late being born. Sorry Mom and Dad. But in our Christian lives, we have expectations of what the seasons will be, what the ebb and tide of involvement and giving will be, we even, especially in liturgical traditions, have expectations about the timing and sequence of church services. They follow a flow, and even when we do something slightly new, it's not usually new enough to totally mess us up. But what if we say, did Advent in the spring? Whoa! That would trip a few of us up! For some of us today, the Lutheran pattern of our service is slightly different, but you still are able to look at the bulletin and recognize the parts as they come along. We are people of habits and traditions and following what we have always done.

Jesus however, tells his disciples today, that no one knows when the time will come, when the Son of Man will arrive. It will be unexpected. He tells them that as in the days of Noah, people will be going about doing what they have always been doing on that day. We don't tend to work in fields or grind meal these days, but we still do eat and drink and get married, and we do understand what Jesus is saying. You'll be going about your chores and there won't have been a bulletin made up that told you ahead of time that Jesus was coming. There will be no fanfare, no playing of Pomp and Circumstance to let you know. Surprise! Jesus, in glory. Whoa, whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa.

As human beings, we obviously have some issues with the unknown. We aren't very good at waiting for surprises, we aren't very good at sitting in mystery, we aren't very good at being in the dark. In the church, we have created a tradition of trying to guess when Jesus is coming again. We have created a tradition of trying to anticipate and schedule God into our lives. We fail to allow God to surprise us. Yet, I think part of the idea is the surprise. We see Jesus telling his disciples to keep awake, yet we tire of staying awake and so, we schedule time to watch and wait into the calendar. But the whole idea of keeping awake is that we cannot schedule or watch at the appropriate time. Keeping awake is a mindfulness exercise for all the time, for every moment. It's a lot of work, to be mindful of the possibility of the entrance of God into every moment. Keeping awake like this takes brain power, takes energy, takes observing things that sometimes we get caught up in. Do you know the difference between a good soap opera and a bad soap opera? A good soap opera gets you emotionally involved so that you don't even realize you're sitting there staring at a TV and wasting what could otherwise be useful time. A bad soap opera is one where you don't get emotionally involved, where you are able to analyze what is going on and watch interactions between the characters... And usually realize how bad the acting or the plot line really is. Being awake in ones own life is a bit like trying to watch a bad soap opera. Not that the characters are cheesy or the plot line is jumbled, but that you're able to see what is going on and how it all fits together. Even more so, keeping awake requires knowing a little bit about what you might be looking and waiting and watching for... but we have a hard time in defining God and we certainly don't know what Jesus' second coming might look like. 

Yet, The funny thing about the exercise of keeping awake, of mindful watching, is the result. We human beings are great at finding what we are looking for, even when it doesn't exist sometimes. In negative terms you can see this happen in relationships when one partner gets paranoid about something another is doing. In positive terms, we talk about gratitude practices that make you mindful of what you are grateful and then... you start realizing you are grateful for so many things. When we start being mindful and keeping awake looking for the unexpected presence of God in our lives, unsurprisingly, ironically enough, we find God in our lives. 

Keeping awake gets easier as you do it. It becomes a habit, a pattern. Part of the reason we dedicate a season to waiting for Jesus to be born is because this kind of mindset requires time to sink in and become part of our daily routine. My suggestion to you this season is find some way to make sure you are keeping awake this Advent. Find some way to be accountable to someone else about how you have seen God in your life, someone with whom to share how Jesus is being born in you this year. We are a community together. We can help each other keep awake. Just as y'all help each other wake up when someone falls asleep during the sermon. Just as y'all keep each other aware of the changes in weather during storms so that everyone is safe. The Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. There will be no warning signs, there will be no fanfare, there will be no gathering clouds. 


Today we restart this journey, this quest. To keep awake. To wait and watch and look for Jesus. We have done this before and we will do this again, but we renew our efforts today. We all fall short of being constantly watching, waiting, and looking. So, we start again. Watching, waiting, looking. Because all parts of Jesus' ministry are present in our lives, being born, doing ministry, dying for our sins, resurrecting in new life. All of parts of Jesus' ministry are present in our lives. I cannot tell you where you will find him in your life this season, but I know he is there. Keep watch therefore and wonder at the marvelous works God is doing. Amen. 

Monday, November 21, 2016

Christ our King

"Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise." 
As we sit here today, we are at a turning point in our year. As we approach the end of our secular calendar year, we also have come to the end of our church calendar year. This is the last Sunday after Pentecost and next week we will celebrate the first Sunday of Advent, which begins a new church year. In our lectionary calendar, we have come to the end of our journey with the gospel of Luke, and so we hear today the climax of Luke's great story, the story of the crucifixion. This may seem like an odd gospel passage to hear on this Sunday, however there is good narrative sense in hearing this story today. Sometimes we may question what the lectionary committee was thinking when they put together the cycle of readings, but as a group of seasoned priests and lay people of the church, we can trust that they had a reason for this choice. In my own study and sitting with this passage this week, I have come to the understanding that this passage does two things for us today. First, it shows us a true view of what it means that Jesus is our King, and second, it assures us of the hope that we have in Jesus. At the end of the year, in the midst of venturing into the unknown, both of these things are very important for us to focus on.

"Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise." 
In many traditions, today is celebrated as Christ the King Sunday. The celebration of Christ the King Sunday started as a Catholic celebration, designed by Pope Pius in 1925 to help fight back against the encroaching problems of secularism and Protestantism. In some ways, the fact that the celebration of Christ the King Sunday has entered the Anglican, Episcopal, and Lutheran traditions is highly ironic. However, the idea behind the celebration is one of remembering that Jesus is our ultimate leader, which in my opinion is not a bad idea. As much as we as human beings have a long history of kings and monarchical leadership, we in America don't have much personal experience with kings. Of course, that doesn't stop us from being fascinated with the British Royal family, but we have a different model of leadership in our country. No matter how we end up with our leaders, every country around the globe has a human being in charge and the thing about humans is that none of us are perfect. Humans are susceptible to corruptions and emotional reactive words and deeds. Jesus, on the other hand, is nothing like that. In Jesus, we have a king, a leader, we can always follow. Jesus builds his leadership on his relationship with God in love and with compassion and forgiveness. We see these in the passage from Luke's gospel this morning. While Jesus is being crucified, he prays that God forgive the people who condemn him. He also acknowledges the faith of a man who is admittedly guilty and being crucified with him. We have seen this kind of leadership from Jesus throughout the last couple of months of gospel passages. Jesus focuses on his relationships people and God, looking first with compassion and forgiveness to those who acknowledge they aren't perfect. This is the kind of leadership style that gathers him followers everywhere he goes. These are the actions that gave the poor and downtrodden people of first century hope in the wandering prophet Jesus.

"Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise." 
I keep coming back to this verse of the passage because this is truly the hope that we have in Jesus. When we are able to acknowledge our own brokenness in the light of Jesus's wholeness, we are able to accept the forgiveness and love that Jesus offers us. Jesus offered this convicted criminal being hung on a cross at the same time as he a place in Paradise, in heaven, with him. This is not some platitude. Jesus offers a man who recognizes his own deficiency a place in his kingdom. In another show of irony, Pilate had Jesus crucified for being the King of the Jews, which despite no one believing, was the truth. Sometimes truth comes from unexpected places. Most of us certainly wouldn't expect Jesus to offer a person suffering the effects of capital punishment a place in Paradise. However, Jesus sees beyond what we can see. So, Jesus can also offer us a place in his kingdom, if we can recognize our own reality of deficiency, but not let that get in the way of recognizing him as someone who is different, who can help. Jesus can see beyond any messes we may have made in our lives.

"Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise." 
Our Christian hope is through Jesus. As we move towards the season of Advent, towards the season of expectantly waiting for the birth of Christ, we pause here at his Crucifixion, to recognize what we are looking for. We are looking for the Christ who leads unlike all the kings of the world. We are looking for the one in who shows us the assurance of our hope in God. The one who will lead us home. Amen.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

What do you see when you look in the mirror?

30 October 2016
Proper 26C

What do you see when you look in the mirror? 

I read a story once from a busy business woman in New York City, where on her way to work one day, she saw something unexpected. After she had entered her place of employment as usual, she went to catch an elevator up to her office floor. As she was walking up to the bank of elevators, she saw one was filling up and so she started running. Above the elevators was a line of mirrors and as she ran into the elevator, she caught a glimpse of someone she recognized as a friend but couldn’t place at the moment and she raised her hand to wave. After she was on the elevator on her way upstairs, she realized that the friend she had glimpsed in the mirror as she was running for elevator, was in fact herself. Her mind had recognized herself as a friend. 

What do we see when we look in the mirror? 

One thing I can tell you about living next door is that the Rectory has a lot of mirrors. There is a mirror right as you walk in the door, in the foyer, right over the front fireplace. There are mirrors in all the bathrooms, in some of the bedrooms, in the den, in the upstairs hallway, even in the basement! My favorite mirror in the house though is the mirror I brought with me. On my mirror I have written affirmations about life, reminders to connect with people, about who loves me, reminders to dance and be grateful. I have a little sign I found that says, “Objects in this mirror may be distorted by socially constructed ideas of beauty.” I, like many others, long suffered from trying to compare myself to how others look and finding myself lacking. With all these gentle nudges in the right direction, I have learned to see beyond what society says looking back at me in the mirror.

What do we see when we look in the mirror?

As I have been settling into my new life here in Franklin, into my new home and my new vocation here at St. John’s, I have been pondering this question. Churches are well known for their identities, their DNA. If you have ever kept up with Diocesan news, you’d probably be able to tell me the characteristics of the different churches in the area, whether one Episcopal church is a problem or whether one only has a contemporary service or is high church or not. If you keep up with Franklin news, you’d be able to tell me which church in town is most welcoming, or does the most for those in need, or is the strictest about their rules. But as I learn the rhythm of St. John’s, I have wondered, what would we see if we held up a mirror to our community? Does that line up with what others see in us? When I think of St. John’s, I think of a beautiful church with a community that tries hard to take care of each other and support each other. That is what I see, but is that what everyone else sees? 

What do we see when we look in the mirror?

In the gospel passage, we know what everyone else thought of Zacchaeus. He was short and disliked. He was a traitorous tax collector, dealing with the Roman oppressors, and making himself wealthy off the extra money he demanded of his constituents. I can’t imagine the names the people of Jericho called him behind his back! But what did Zacchaeus see when he looked in the mirror? Did he see the socially constructed ideas of who he was? Did he see himself as a traitorous tax collector? As someone who couldn’t be trusted? Did he see himself as a conflicted man doing his job to the best of his ability but upsetting lots of people? Was he proud of what he did? We do not know, but in any case, I imagine that whatever he saw in the mirror before he met Jesus changed after he had dinner with Jesus. Interestingly, the original Greek text is a little vague on the verb tense in the passage when Zacchaeus stands in front of Jesus and says, “"Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I pay back four times as much." He could have been already practicing almsgiving and repayment. But even if he was already giving to the poor and repaying those who were defrauded, the experience of Jesus is a turning point in Zacchaeus’ life. Jesus recognizes Zacchaeus as two different things. First, Jesus recognizes Zacchaeus as lost. Second, Jesus recognizes Zacchaeus as a son of Abraham. These are two very important traits. 

At this point in the book of Luke, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. This is one of the last stories before the week of stories that encompasses what we know as Holy Week. The story of Zacchaeus ends at Luke chapter 19, verse 10. The story of Jesus sending his disciples to get the donkey that carries him during his triumphal entry we know as Palm Sunday starts at Luke chapter 19, verse 29. This is one of his last moments to make clear what he has been doing and saying across the Judean and Galilean countrysides. It’s all in that last sentence, “For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” 

Jesus recognizes Zacchaeus as lost, whether he was already almsgiving or not. Zacchaeus was in a place in his life that he needed that connection with God, he needed to know he was found by God. Jesus recognizes Zacchaeus as a son of Abraham as well. As a member of the community of God and as beloved child of God. The words that Jesus says, sharing Zacchaeus’ identity as a son of Abraham, as a member of God’s kingdom, changed Zacchaeus, and probably all those who heard them. Zacchaeus was a traitorous tax collector, the vilest of the vile, and yet… the Son of Man, the prophet who walked around curing the sick and spreading good news, he recognized this poor excuse of a man as a lost, but beloved member of God’s kingdom. 

What do you see when you look in the mirror?  

The most important view on any of our lives isn’t what we see in the mirror. It isn’t what our neighbors see or society sees when looking at us. The most important view on our lives is what God sees when looking at us. I think most of us stand with Zacchaeus before the Lord, knowing the yearning in our own hearts to see Jesus, knowing what we do and what we don’t do. And as Zacchaeus is known by Jesus as a lost but beloved member of God’s community, we too are known by God as lost but beloved members of the community. What God sees when looking at us is more than we could ever see by looking in a mirror. What God sees when looking at us is more important than anything we could ever think about ourselves. God sent Jesus to share with us what is seen, lost and beloved members of the community who need a good shepherd to reconnect them to the source of all creation. Thanks be to God for his point of view! 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Practicing Prayer

23 October 2016
Proper 25C

There are a lot of sayings out there about practice, especially in the realm of sports. "Practice, practice, practice." "If you don't practice, you don't deserve to win." "If you think practice is boring, try sitting on the bench." "Don't practice until you get it right, practice until you can't get it wrong." "You play the way you practice." Then there are the longer ones written on gym posters and websites.  "Be patient, the results will speak for themselves." You have heard these kinds of sayings shouted out on sports fields, you have seen these sayings on tee shirts, you have said these things to yourself in the midst of challenges. These are normal parts of daily life, especially for anyone involved in any athletic endeavor. But I've never heard any of these applied to life in the church.

Yet, there are many things that we do in the community of the church that require practice. The first things that come to mind are probably things like being an acolyte or being on the Altar Guild. Those do require practice in order to put things in the right places, in order to get the timing right. However, what I am talking about is something we all do. What I want to talk about practicing today is prayer. Prayer requires daily practice. Why would we practice prayer? So that we will be transformed into whom God is calling us to be individually and as a community.

Transformation is a buzz word in the church. Yet, true transformation as a Christian is a hard path to follow. It requires time and effort and discipline and letting go of all the things that you could (and would) rather be doing. Transformation is a slow process, a growing process, a process over time which changes our hearts, our minds, and our behaviors. It reconnects us to ourselves and to God. In a nutshell, transformation means practicing the new behaviors that transform us. In the Christian tradition, the biggest behavior that transforms us is prayer.

One of the reasons practice helps in sports is that it builds muscle memory. Muscle memory is what keeps your body throwing or kicking or catching a ball properly when your mind is thinking about other things, like who is covering you or where the ball is going next. Muscle memory develops when you practice prayer as well. When I was in seminary, I attended Morning Prayer almost every day of the week. As I practiced praying every day in the morning with the rest of the seminary, I learned how to get into a head space for prayer, and it got easier over time to get up in the morning and start my day with Morning Prayer. When I moved away from the seminary and I was in a community that didn't do Morning Prayer together every day, I fell out of practice and I noticed that I stopped praying first thing in the morning. However, since moving here, to this community that does Morning Prayer together every day at 8am, I have started getting back into the practice of prayer in the morning and I have been grateful that my body remembers and is able to fall into the space to be able to pray more easily once again. Sometimes it is my body's muscle memory for prayer that keeps me being able to pray when I am having a hard time.

In the gospel passage this morning, we hear a parable about two men praying in the temple. Many of you have heard this parable so many times that it is not surprising anymore. However, this parable would be a serious surprise and shock to the people listening to Jesus share this parable. The first surprise would be the fact that a tax collector is in the temple praying! That is situational irony at play right there, it would be having a member of Hell’s Angels biker gang walk into our church. The suggestion that a tax collector was praying in the temple would have gotten some laughs. Yeah, right. And the fact that the tax collector's prayer was cleaner and more pure would have been shocking. As if the biggest, lifelong jerk had sincerely apologized. You would be taken aback. What? Come again? Then, we have the Pharisee and his prayer in the temple. . The Pharisee does put a lot of effort and gratitude into his prayer, despite the way it sounds. And that Pharisee is not supposed to be all Pharisees. This kind of behavior isn't normal. This would have been a shock. Throughout the centuries, we have loaded the word Pharisee so that this is what we expect, but this is not the kind of behavior that the crowd listening to Jesus would have expected. Interestingly, while we hear the verdict about these men’s prayers, neither of these men knew the verdict on their prayers. The Pharisee didn't know that his prayer did not help him be right with God, but the parable also doesn't say it was rejected. It just says that the tax collector was justified, he became right with God. It doesn't say that the Pharisee wasn't already right with God, although his behavior doesn't necessarily show that kind of relationship. The way the Pharisee prays in this passage is simply a self-comparison to other people. On the other hand, the tax collector doesn't compare himself to anyone else. He doesn't mention anyone else at all. His relationship with God is between himself and God. Somehow God was working in this tax collector’s life and he was beginning to be transformed.

As Episcopalians, Anglicans, we have a history of being the via media, the middle way. We seek to walk the line between liturgy and word, between contemplation and the world. Part of our inheritance is the tension of paradox that we have been given. It is not our doctrines or dogmas that bind us together, but our prayer life, especially as it is rooted in the Book of Common Prayer. This passage suggests that the kind of Christians we are is defined by our prayer. That how we pray reveals who we are, because prayer is the act of our relationship with God. Prayer is the substance of our relationship with God.

So we have to ask ourselves, how is our prayer life? How do we speak with God? How do we listen to God? For Luke, the author of this gospel passage, prayer is faith in action. We have to acknowledge our need for God's mercy, but also understand that God does not have to give it. That may seem harsh, but if we expect God's mercy, then we feel entitled to God's mercy. There can be no entitlement between us as human beings and God. We do rely on God and we do have to act in obedience, even if God has a tendency to give grace to those who haven't been acting properly. That is not our judgement. While the people in the crowd and the sharers of the gospel passage are judging the Pharisee and tax collector that is not our role. Judgement is not how Jesus teaches us to look at other people. Jesus teaches us that we are all God's beloved children.

"Not only does God see us as we truly are, not only does he love and accept us as we are – but he also challenges us to change and be transformed – to become that unique person whom God made us to be." (Br. Geoffrey Tristram, SSJE)

So come, join. Pray and practice. Pray and be transformed.


Thursday, October 6, 2016

From Tiny to Gigantic

2 October 2016 
Proper 22C 

In 1927, the Belgian Catholic priest Georges Lemaitre proposed a theory about our universe 
being always expanding, trying to answer and give reason to some strange observations in 
astronomy and physics. Most of us know his theory these days as the big bang theory. In the big 
bang theory, a small singularity explodes into a huge and vastly expanding universe. 

This image, starting with something so small and creating something vast, is the same image that 
Jesus invokes today with the parable of the mustard seed. It is such a good image for us to 
understand when it comes to the work of God in this world. God always starts with something 
small, something ordinary and turns it into something extraordinary. We are part of the larger 
work of art, and yet, each of us is always a masterpiece of astounding value. We all started as 
something so small, and from that tiny beginning, against all odds, we have become interesting 
beloved human beings with connections, relationships, and legacies. God is in the business of 
transformation. Transforming the small and ordinary into the amazing and extraordinary. This 
process is going on around us all the time, but we have to be open to seeing it. We have to be 
able to look at something and say this is not just a conglomerate of color, texture, smell, taste, 
and sound. This is not just a physical object with a simple purpose, but this is a part of the larger 
work of art all around us. Part of God's grand plan. 

The disciples however, are not seeing it. All of the gospel passages we have heard lately, the 
corrupt manager parable, the story of Lazarus and the rich man, today's teaching about doing 
what we ought to do, its hard stuff. Its no wonder the disciples despair a little of living up to the 
task and being able to live the way that Jesus is teaching them to. But Jesus seems to think this is 
how they ought to be living and that it is simply what we are asked to do, not a beyond the duty 
kind of calling. “We cannot guess why the “apostles” ask Jesus to add to their faith. He has been 
teaching some very tough messages about stumbling blocks on the journey of faith and he’s been 
very direct with the religious leaders of the day. I can only imagine, especially after the message 
of accountability, that I, in their shoes, would ask the same thing. I might say, “Jesus what you 
say is hard. It is actually REALLY difficult. Give me faith to do these things … add to my faith.”
” Perhaps having more faith will help them. They don't feel up to it, they don't feel like they 
have enough to go the distance. 

But Jesus' response seems sort of discouraging and condescending and flippant. Because what 
they are doing is what they should be doing and they don't deserve anything extra for that. Yet, it 
sounds like they are barely managing to accomplish that which is regularly asked of them. What 
comes directly before the apostles asking for more faith in the gospel of Luke is Jesus telling 
them that “ if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven 
times and says, 'I repent,' you must forgive." Seven times in a day! That is a lot of forgiveness. It 
would be so hard to practice that much forgiveness. Surely I would need some help with that as well. I mean, so much forgiveness would require a lot of faith in God to continue over and over 
again, right? Jesus does see their struggle and he seeks to guide them to better understanding 
through a comparison and a story. He tells them that if they had faith like a mustard seed, they 
would be able to do extraordinary things. 

The mustard seed is a small seed, but once a mustard seed has died and germinated and starts 
growing, the resulting mustard plant is huge and aggressive and takes over everywhere it can. 
What starts with a little bitty seed becomes a gigantic thriving plant. The metaphor then 
translates that what Jesus means is that no matter how small our faith might be, it can spread and 
grow and stretch out beyond what we thought possible. With a little bit of faith, what we do 
matters and our faith will impact the world. Through God, our faith becomes part of God’s work 
of salvation and transformation of the whole universe. 

We have to claim what we have, even if it is only a little bit. Because even that little bit can be 
used by God to do amazing things. Our power to follow through and accomplish our mission 
does not come from ourselves, but stems from God. It is a reliance on God that allows us to be 
able to move through all the hardships that come along with following Jesus. We have to let go 
of all the things we feel we should be doing on our own. Because trust does not mean that we are 
shoring everything up, that we are attending to all the details ourselves in order for everything to 
work perfectly. We cannot accomplish that. And when we try, we only lead ourselves into 
despair. 

We may feel that what we have in the way of faith is lacking. We may feel that our doubts 
outweigh and overwhelm our ability to trust the Lord. But we forget who we are dealing with, 
what we are dealing with. We are dealing with the God of all creation, who made the universe 
and set in motion the vibrations of atoms. God can work with the littlest seed, like a mustard 
seed. With the littlest amount of faith, because the amount does not matter. God, whose name is the breathing out and breathing in of all creation, has already given us everything we could ever 
possibly need within ourselves. It is us, it is our minds, our hearts, that build walls between 
ourselves and our potential. We already have what we need to do what we are supposed to do. 
When we pray, we tear down those walls inside ourselves, brick by brick, so that the abilities we 
have inside can shine out, so that when everything is stripped away, all that is left is God shining 
through. What we ought to be doing is not more than we can handle, because it is not us that is 
handling it. God is working through us. We need to let go of ourselves, our fears, our self-
awareness in order to be shown that God working through us can do more than we could ever 
imagine. We are working with God. The Holy One of Israel. The Lord who lead the Israelites out 
of slavery and through the desert. The God who gave the Israelites the Promised Land even 
though they misbehaved. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, of Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and 
Rachel. An awesome God, in the old overwhelming goosebumps sense of awesome. Sometimes 
in the busyness of our daily lives we forget this. Sometimes in the silence of what feels like 
unanswered prayer, this can seem trite. Yet, the God that comes to us through the bread and wine of Eucharist is a God that takes each of us human beings out of something so small, our walled 
off selves, and transforms us into the body of Christ, a new world of love and grace. 

Remembering the Mission

25 September 2016 
Proper 21C 

Please, stay calm. “Don’t let this story [from the gospel passage this morning] freak us 
out about hell and damnation. It is not about the afterlife and its conditions. It is a 
parable, a made up fictional story told to make a point, a point on how to live this life 
here and now.” (PreachingTip.com) 

If you were with us last week, you know that I talked about parables and how they 
challenge, humor, and teach us. The parable in the gospel passage this morning 
definitely continues that style of teaching. This parable is not as confusing as the one 
about the corrupt manager that we heard last week, but “The story is left opened ended 
because it points to us. We are opened ended. Remember parables are always about this 
life. This story is asking us if we will come around and change our ways.”
(PreachingTip.com) 

So in what way is this parable asking us if we will change? In order to discern this, we 
are going to use one of the most time honored ways of reading scripture. One of the 
most time honored ways of reading the scriptures is a practice called Lectio Divina. 
Lectio Divina requires reading a short passage over and over again and looking at it in 
different ways. Interestingly, this practice has been applied to many other things in the 
world. Lectio divina, meaning “divine reading” in Latin, comes out of the Benedictine 
tradition and typically has four parts. Reading, meditating, contemplating, and praying. 
However, the lectio divina model doesn't only have to be used for scripture. Recently, I
have been listening to a podcast called Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. In the podcast, 
the hosts look at a chapter of a Harry Potter book through the lens of a chosen word and 
then randomly choose a sentence and go through a lectio divina practice of reading and 
studying the sentence in four ways, literally, metaphorically, related to ourselves, and 
action. The hosts of this show are very secular, but they are trying to find ways of finding 
value in the world through something that many people already consider very special. 
To a whole generation of young adults, along with other people, the Harry Potter world 
and story hold a special place. 

So in order to find the meaning and challenge in this parable, we are going to try out this 
lectio divina practice and look at one sentence of the parable literally, metaphorically, in 
relation to our community at St. John’s, and its challenge for action. 
The random, finger chosen, sentence for this morning is: "But Abraham said, 'Child, 
remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like 
manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony." 

First, what is literally going on here? The rich man, has asked Abraham to send Lazarus 
to give him some water because he is in agony after death. Abraham gives him this 
answer. The answer is interesting in many ways. Before we can look at the answer, we 
have to look at the request. The request is interesting in many ways as well. The rich 
man asks Abraham and not Lazarus, about giving him some water, which still shows the 
rich man as treating Lazarus badly. The rich man still believes in his own status and 
thinks he has the honor to ask Abraham. But Abraham puts him in his place. Child, he 
addresses him. Child, the rich man has no name in this story. Child, a lowly human 
being without any power. Child, remember. I think it is interesting that the first verb 
Abraham uses is remember. Because the rich man did not remember during his life time 
to follow the rules and spirit of the Jewish tradition and faith. He did not give alms to 
the poor. He did not remember. The rich man remembered who Abraham was, but he 
did not remember any of the rules. Remember your life and all those good things you 
received. This is also very much a story stuck in the clash between cultures. In Jewish 
tradition, after death all souls went to Sheol, which was basically a shadowy pit in the 
ground where nothing happened. There is no agony there. There is no delight there. But 
this rich man is not in Sheol, he is in Hades, the Greek underworld. In the Greek 
tradition, there is a Field of Punishment for those who committed crimes while living. A 
place of agony. There is a lot of counterpoint in this story. The rich man received many 
good things in this world and thus, to balance the story, must receive evil now. And 
Lazarus, who had received plenty of evil things in this world, now must receive good 
things. Also, Lazarus, the man with nothing and no dignity is given honor in this story 
because he is the one named. The rich man, who has everything, has no name in this 
story, signifying his lack of honor. Both the Jewish and Greek traditions had strains of 
high value being placed on balance which comes out in this story. 

Second, what is metaphorically going on here? Well, Abraham is balancing out the 
world. There is a sense of justice here, not just for the rich man and Lazarus, but also for 
all those who are poor and do not have honor. Abraham is putting the world back to 
rights. Straightening the world out again. There is also something about the choice of 
the verb remember in this sentence that grabs me. Remember. Remember the justice 
that you learned about rich man? Now it is here. Remember what you were supposed to 
do? Well, this is the consequence of not doing it. Not only is Abraham addressing the 
rich man, Abraham is also warning us. Abraham is reminding us. Jesus speaks through 
Abraham in this parable. Jesus has been discussing wealth and priorities, our 
stewardship, in the last few gospel passages and he continues those themes here. We all 
have been given gifts and what we do with them does matter. What the rich man did and 
didn’t do matters with the riches of his world gifts greatly in the situation he finds himself in. 

Third, how is what is going on here apply to us? In my mind the themes of balance, 
remembering, and stewardship all apply to us at St. John’s. Jesus through Abraham is 
challenging and teaching us. Jesus speaks about grace and love, but there is that kind of Fatherly love that requires correction and returning to the path. Repentance is only an 
issue if there is something to be held to. And Abraham is reminding us of what that is. 
There are things we ought to be doing. Another application is the understanding present 
in this passage of the balance in the world between having too much and too little. We 
cannot always control when we have too little, but we are able to control what we do 
when we have too much. We have great wealth here in our parish. We have wonderful 
capital. We have a faithful community who supports each other and the life of the 
community. But there was an attitude problem in this parable and Abraham seeks to 
change the rich man's attitude and ours as well. We cannot keep what we have to 
ourselves. 

Fourth, and naturally following the last section, we have to ask ourselves what action 
should we take out of this parable? The action in the chosen sentence, the active verb, is 
remember. What action do we at St. John's need to take out of this parable? Remember, 
remember that while we have good things in this world, we need to be sharing them. We 
have much that is good in this world in our community. And while we don't always share 
it, we need to be looking at how we share it. Remember can point to a lot of things we do 
in the church. Especially in a church such as St. John’s, history is a palpable part of our 
life together. I was poignantly reminded of our history as we rehung the pictures of the 
priests of this parish in the Parish Hall on Friday. As we look around us at the beauty of 
our windows, the brass, the mosaics, we know we have a rich history, filled with people 
who cared. Abraham, however, is not reminding us of our history. We do that enough as 
it is. He is reminding us of why all that history exists in the first place. It exists because 
we have a mission. A mission we must remember and act upon. Daily, weekly, monthly, 
seasonally, yearly, we are called to gather together in worship and then to go out into the 
world to share. To share the story, to share the gifts, and to share the love of God that 
has been abundantly given to us. Remember, Abraham tells us, remember the mission. 
Remember what you are called to do. 

Parables Humor, Challenge, and Teach

18 September 2016 
Proper 21C 

There once was a turtle that lived near a hare. The hare made fun of the turtle for going 
so slowly all the time. One day, the hare had a marvelous idea. He was going to 
challenge the turtle to a race! Then he could really make fun of the turtle for losing. 
There was no way the hare with all his speed wouldn't win! When the hare saw the turtle 
the next day he challenged the turtle to a race and surprisingly the turtle accepted. They 
set the agreed upon start and finish and got themselves ready. At the starting sound, off 
they went along the path. The hare bounded ahead and soon became so far ahead he 
couldn't even see the turtle behind him anymore. After a little while, he thought to 
himself, I am so far ahead, I have time to take a little nap. I'll wake up and still have 
plenty of time to finish. So he found a nice spot and sat down for a nap. The turtle 
however, had been steadily walking all the while. Soon he came upon the hare along the 
side of the road taking a nap. He shook his head and kept going. After the turtle had 
crossed the finish line, the hare came bounding up. What!? he exclaimed! He had lost 
the race! While he had been sleeping, the turtle had passed him. We know the story, we 
know the moral. Slow and steady wins the race. This is a parable and in this parable we 
see a challenge, both for the characters in the story, but also for us. We see some humor, 
situational irony, in that it is funny that a slow turtle would win a race against a fast 
hare. And we learn a lesson, something to help change the way we live our lives every 
day. 

This happens over and over again in our readings of the gospel texts. We run into 
parables that are meant to challenge, humor, and teach us. Sometimes parables don't 
always make sense at first glance, or even second or third. The thing about parables is 
that they are supposed to make us think. Yes, we are supposed to be thinking in church! 
Thinking about what Jesus means. Because Jesus knows one of those human being quirks about us that we don't always know about ourselves. We learn better when we 
think about what we are learning. The parables are one way Jesus makes us think. 
Parables are stories or sayings that are usually metaphoric. They illustrate a point in 
such a way as to be personal, in such a way that we connect with what is being said. They 
want us to think. They challenge us. Some of them are even meant to be humorous. 
Gasp! To think, Jesus probably had a sense of humor. Sometimes I have to wonder, 
which one of the disciples was the jokester of the group? I cannot imagine thirteen men 
wandering around the countryside without a few inside jokes. And while we joke about 
the humor of God and the humor of Jesus in modern memes, most of the time we don't 
seriously consider where the humor of Jesus might show up in our bible studies. Yet, 
when I think about the stories people most often share and the ways we teach our 
children through stories, all those lessons, morals, stories include a bit of humor. It 
stands to reason that the gospels also include a bit of humor. 

In looking at all these aspects of a parable we can come to understand more fully the 
point that Jesus is trying to make. Luckily for us, we have a system of looking at the 
gospel texts in such a way that if we are regularly attending church, we see the same 
passages over and over and over again. This is helpful because we can see each parable 
differently each time. We are given the time and perspective throughout our lives to see the parables in new ways. To allow the parables to challenge, humor, and make us think 
in new ways. There are countless stories across the church of people seeing a certain 
parable always in the same way until something happens in their lives and all of a 
sudden, a new understanding or way of seeing a parable occurs to them. Of course, 
sometimes a parable has to challenge us in the same way over and over again before we 
have learned the lesson. 

When we turn to the parable today, what we see at first glance is a very confusing 
parable. "Commentators routinely remark that the parable of the Dishonest (Corrupt) 
Manager stands among the most challenging texts in the New Testament, often
regarding it as the most perplexing of Jesus' parables."1
 
We have a shyster, a slick, no-good manager and a wealthy owner. We don't know much about them, but we get to see 
into this bit of their interactions. The no-good manager is accused of squandering 
property and the owner realizes that he needs to fire the manager. So he brings him in 
for a conversation and tells him this. Then, either before or after being actually fired, the 
timeline isn't clear, the manager goes and forgives parts of the debts owed to the owner. 
Which is very much both a tricky and compassionate act. He both makes himself and the 
owner look good, but he is really only doing it to save his own hide. When the owner
finds out about the forgiven debt, he calls the manager in for another talk... and then 
praises him for acting shrewdly! Whoa, where is the upbraiding chastisement we were 
expecting? To top it off, Jesus seems to think this is the way we should be acting. 

There are some clues here, some clues to the challenge that Jesus is putting before us. 
Some clues to the humor of Jesus in this situation, some clues to the lessons we are to 
learn from this parable. Of course, there are multiple ways this can be seen. 

Two of the challenges that are offered for us in this passage are in the acts of forgiveness 
and faithfulness. The manager forgives parts of the debts of those who owe the owner. 
In a way, he is praised for doing so. His forgiveness helps everyone in the situation. The 
owner looks good and his reputation increases. The manager looks like a good man and 
someone who can be invited in after his displacement. Those who owe, now have to pay less than they did before, meaning they get to keep more for themselves, to eat or sell for 
other goods. Forgiveness in this story is a win-win-win. Forgiveness is always a win. 
Even though one could argue that the manager does it for the wrong reasons. The 
importance of faithfulness is also shown in this story. Early in the story, we hear that the 
manager is squandering the property of the owner. He is not being a faithful steward 
with what he has been entrusted with. However, in his self-interested turn around, he 
does act shrewdly and is a much better steward of the land and the owner's goods. He is 
also praised for this change in his stewardship. 

The humor of this story is in how strange it is. This is not how people act! Now, it may 
not all be haha funny humor. You may be reviewing the parable for this morning and 
thinking, but I didn’t laugh... The parable contains situational irony, the irony of 
juxtapositions of situations and surprising actions. But Jesus was not asking his 
followers, his disciples to act in the same way as the rest of society around him. He 
wanted to show his disciples a new way of living. When it comes to figuring out the lessons to be learned from this parable, we can easily 
look at the series of rhetorical questions afterwards. He wants us to forgive, to act 
shrewdly, and with great faithfulness. “We are given as stewards all of creation and a 
tremendous number of relationships. What we do with them does matter.” (Bishop 
Andrew Doyle) 

As we look at this parable, no matter how you understand it, it presents a challenge to 
the way in which you are living your life. Not many of us are able to forgive in the way 
that has been done here, or praise another's actions even after they have hurt our own 
feelings. Not many of us act as shrewdly as the manager in service of the kingdom of 
God. Our shrewdness is held for our own survival and comfort. (The Rev. Whitney Rice) 
“Jesus is saying that we would do well to be just as shrewd for the things of God, like 
good relationships, justice in our dealings, and love for each other.” Jesus knows the 
difference a story like this can make in our lives. Something to get under our skin. I 
invite you to take the parable home with you. To read it out loud and ask yourself, what 
challenge does this story present to me this day? Where do I find humor in this story? 
What lesson do I need to learn from this story? The answers that come out of such 
contemplation bring us closer to God and move us forward in the way of following 
Jesus. 

Wandering Towards Joy

11 September 2016 
Proper 19C 

Have you ever been walking or driving somewhere, but not really paying attention and
ended up somewhere else? When I was a kid, my family went to the church multiple 
times a week and more than a few times, when my mom's mind was busy and she wasn't
paying attention, she would accidentally drive to the church instead of wherever she was 
trying to go. Sometimes she would realize it before she got to the church and change 
course, but sometimes we would pull into the church parking lot and us, the kids, the back seat drivers would ask, “why are we here?” and my mom would look around and say, “I wasn't paying attention.” We all wander off course sometimes. 

Some of us have the wandering off tendency more than others. Sometimes we have good 
reasons for wandering off. Sometimes we are looking for other things. Sometimes there 
is no good reason, but we feel the need to do so and off we go. Metaphorically, when we 
talk about wandering off, many times those are not good places, and then it takes 
courage to walk out of those situations. 

Many times when we figure out that something is lost, we either have to fight feelings of panic or apathy. They are two extreme responses to noticing something is missing, but I’m sure we all know both of them well. There are things that the moment we notice they are lost, we flip out about it and must find them. 

Then there are those things that go missing and we either forget about them or put off 
finding them because they are not worth the present moment. 

In the gospel passage, we see more of the first kind of response to the missing sheep and 
lost coin. The sheep quite literally has wandered off, while the coin has been lost, though 
not on its own agency. The shepherd and the woman care deeply about their lost item 
and go about swiftly looking for them.

As I have been trying to be conscious of paying attention to the many levels of things 
going on at St. John's, it strikes me that there is a lot of attention being paid in this 
passage. The tax collectors and sinners are paying a lot of attention to Jesus, despite the 
Pharisee's wish that they wouldn't. The Pharisees and scribes were paying attention to Jesus enough to be grumbling about what he was teaching and doing. Enough to be 
noticing who he was eating with every day. I like to pay attention to my neighbors, but I 
haven't noticed who each is having dinner with every day! With such an emphasis on 
paying attention to each other and going in search of what is missing, it almost seems as 
if Jesus is saying that God is incomplete when one of us is missing. (Don Armentrout) 

The shepherd was paying attention, otherwise he would not have noticed that one of his hundred sheep was missing. And then he had to pay attention in order to track down the sheep, to find where it had gone. The shepherd takes the risk of losing more sheep by leaving the ninety nine to go in search of the one. The woman was paying attention enough to notice that she was missing a coin, and then, to search her house for such a little object and find it. The woman cleans her entire house in order to find one little coin. The coins in this passage are each worth about a day's wage for a laborer. Even one coin was an important amount of money for a woman. Her attention to the details of noticing it was missing and being careful to find it shows her care in being a good steward. 

I have to wonder sometimes if we always recognize when we have wandered off course. 
In society we become very adept at hiding our lostness or our loneliness or our problems 
because we feel that we must always present a good face. However, I feel the call for us 
at St. John’s right now to be paying attention to those things which have been lost along 
the way. As a church, we have been walking with Jesus a long long time. Certain things 
have been lost and when we have figured out they were gone, were judged unworthy of 
the time or energy of the moment and then forgotten. Have we noticed what we are 
missing? Do we have the ability to track it down, to return to the path? As a 
congregation, we have lost some people along the journey. Both the shepherd and the 
woman offer us role models of what we could be doing in taking the care to follow up
with those who have wandered off, to clean up so that we can find the things that have 
been lost within our lives and our life together that used to bring grace and joy to our 
community. 

We have a lot we would have to pay attention to in order to find them. Finding the 
things, values, and people that have been lost along the way takes a bit of time and 
energy. In my time here so far, learning what it is to be St. John's, while there are many 
parts of our live together in which I have noticed that we are doing great at staying true, 
there are also a few places where perhaps we have wandered around a little. Luckily for 
us, we have a great good shepherd. We have someone who cares so much about us that 
no dirt or dust, no wandering tracks in the wilderness, would stop them from finding us again. We can be both the lost and the found. We can be both the ones being found and the ones doing the finding. One of the best bits about parables is that we can learn from every part of it. 

The best part of all though, is the part at the end. Did you pay attention to what happens 
at the end? The shepherd and the woman celebrate. They share their joy! They continue 
being role models for us in this way as well. When we are found, when we find what we 
are missing, we can share our joy in being reunited! There is inherent joy in finding, and 
joy is something that has to be shared, and we see that in the passage. The sheep and the 
coin are alone and lost, but when they are found, they are part of community again. 
There is an emphasis on sharing joy in this passage. Because the shepherd and the 
woman don't just find their lost items, they also rejoice and call their friends. They share 
their joy, in word and action. They throw parties, and parties always mean food. 

In a way, we could look at what we do here in church today as a party of joy after finding 
and being found. Some of us come here this morning, perhaps after having found something this week. Some of us come here this morning, perhaps after having been a 
little lost this week. But here we are all acknowledged as part of the community worthy 
being celebrated for! We celebrate our joy in being part of God’s community here in this 
place. We celebrate with food, with bread and wine. We celebrate our joy in being part of 
this community of those who have been lost over and over again, of those who have been 
found over and over again, and in being reunited with God. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

Value

After this weekend, after this summer of pain, I want to share this. Written earlier this summer, but so much so still applicable. 


7/8/16 Value

you buy yourself a gun
a good one and expect to pay a few grand
you paid the fee rolled the dice
and brought home your death to carry
a few grand! for protection ease of mind
not too high a price to pay

a gun requires ammunition
steel plated bullet rounds
stacks of magazines and cleaner oh and targets
so your aim doesn't drop out of practice
and of course the stickers the reputation
to build upon your car no one messes with you
just a few grand more

while clean out your gun one day
you hear shots across the corner
well versed in explosion patterns you know the range and weapon
into the fray you jump excitedly to defend your people
(forgetting perhaps we all are people)
alas you are hit alas you missed
the only one dead the Samaritan
barely old enough to be a man yet with two daughters
and now your daughter won't look at you
no words to say
what was the price for that?



Today's word is value by SSJE
and as I write tonight
at the end of a week of death
of hatred, confusion, and sorrow
all I can think
is that we have lost our sense of human value
we have trafficked, bought, sold, consumed ourselves
into bits on a computer screen
and we have failed to see
that we were undervalued
I wish I could say, no longer
and have it mean no longer
I wish I could tell every human being
you are worth far more
than your weight in plutonium.
Have every child grow up being told
you have dignity
and so does everyone else.
But what are the words of one in 7 billion
my chances of being struck by lightning are greater
so why, why stand up and say no longer?
what is one vote in the wilderness?
Ask a wren that question - but they cannot answer
they do not understand
no matter what tomorrow morning
that wren will mark the day
with its voice, with its song
though one in three hundred billion

the world weeps
as we lose our sense of value
priorities, authorities,
control issues with fathers
we play the game
hope to win
and still we never learn
is the price to pay for one happy family
that the whole world must be dead?

The wren, it knows its place
and who it is and thus it sings its song
Just as I know, one voice, one song,
one part of the melody is mine
and I am a hope bringer, a joy singer
a love sharer

and I will sing my song.