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.  

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Struggling with Faith

In honor of Soren Kierkegaard's lesser feast tomorrow, I would like to share a recent poem about struggling with faith. Kierkegaard wrote a lot about struggling with faith and what faith is. He thought about faith as a passion. Sometimes metaphor is the most helpful way to go. 

Faith

Faith seems
Like kind of a bitch
You think you know her well
And all of a sudden she's gone
Leaving behind her bipolar sister
Doubt, who requires constant tending
Yet after all the hospice care
All the tears and broken prayers
When Faith waltzes back in
It's like sun shining through the cracks
Of six months of stormy clouds
And of course, you welcome her back
With open arms, not believing your luck
Ready to throw the grandest of grand
Celebrations in her honor
Naturally, only after some time,
Do you realize you're still pushing her sister
Around in the wheelchair
Everywhere you go
Complain, yes you do, occasionally mightily
But always when you curl up at night
You're grateful she's there
Like it or not


(Think about the ending of the poem: which sister is it referring to? Interestingly, I think it works both ways. Go poetry!)

The Cost of discipleship - Proper 18C

4 September 2016 
Proper 18C 
The Cost of Discipleship 

This one time... At church camp... The theme for the year was, "leap of faith." For some reason, a group of us got into our heads that any time the theme was mentioned, we needed to leap around. During the lessons, during the softball game, during craft time, if someone said, "leap of faith," we'd all get up and leap about. Leap!

We tend to think of faith as a leap, something spontaneous in a way. Something that cannot be planned out. Faith doesn't work within an outlined list of duties or goals, or with a projection sheet. Yet, it seems like Jesus is saying today in the gospel passage, "I want you to plan, analyze, and figure out if you can be a disciple of mine." He suggests looking at the cost of being a disciple and personally seeing if you can pay. Have any of  you ever done a cost benefit analysis on your faith life? I certainly haven't. It wasn't part of the toolbox they tried to give us in seminary! But Jesus certainly seems to be pointing in that direction with his parables today. In the accounting world, cost benefit 
analyzes help make decisions. If you can project what an idea might cost to implement 
and project what the idea might bring in as profit or goods, then you can look to see if the benefit is worth the cost. So this is what we are going to do today: a cost benefit analysis of our faith life, as individuals and as a congregation. 

First, the costs. What are the costs of being a disciple of Jesus? 

In planning for any goal, you need to know what is involved. Planning to be a disciple of 
Jesus means, well, means that you have to know what it will take. From the text today, we can see Jesus telling us that it will take an overturning of our priorities: to let go of possessions, our own egos, our loyalty to our families, to be different, to let go of our desires, dreams, and ambitions for ourselves in order to put God's will first. As a congregation, it means not putting our church first, not letting our possessions, our building, our windows, our monetary funds get in the way. It means not letting ourselves be an exclusive club, always run in the way we want. 

Phew! That's a long list of costs. Some of them come at a very steep price too. 

Let's go through these in a little more depth. In overview terms, Jesus is talking about a world view switch. Family was the basis of society, family was the most important thing in the ancient world. Your family determined who you were, what you could do, who you could hang out with and talk with and so on and so forth. Usually when we look at this passage, we would rather take the Matthean version, because he doesn't use the word hate, but says, whoever puts his family ahead of me cannot be Jesus' disciple. Being a disciple means a new and total devotion to God. Nothing comes before God. God is first. And the thing about that, is that we all say that in the first commandment of the ten. God comes first. Not family. And yet this is not how human society grew up. Not how we function. 
Then again, Jesus continues with his insistence on giving up our possessions. “There are certainly possessions we have that we should give up if we are to follow the 
authentic life to which Jesus leads us. This might be the over possessing of people we 
claim to love. Do we live as if we own others? It might mean inner idols of overblown 
opinions of self, and our ego concerns. It might actually mean giving up material goods. 
There are many things that could become painful to us, causing a low grade depression, 
while we think we are pursuing our own self-interest.” Its cliche to say that it doesn't really have to do with giving up all your possessions, but having the right priorities. God needs to be first. Sadly, the real issue for most of us is not that we don't try to put God first. We do try. Some of us try harder than others of course, but the real issue for most of us is that we don't know what that kind of living looks like. As human beings, we are best at learning things through imitation. Including our priorities in life. Usually the way we live reflects the way we have imitated others who we idealize, or look up to. Kids are well known for soaking up and imitating the actions they see around them. They will act on behaviors they see their parents doing even if it gets them in trouble or they don't understand what it is. The subconscious thought process is that if my parents are doing it then that is what I should be doing. We have a hard time figuring out what the true life of discipleship looks like, what it looks like to have God as the most worthy thing in our lives, because that is not how we see people acting around us. 

In looking at the question of what it costs to be a disciple of Jesus, the answer is truly, "everything." Nothing can stand in the way between you and God if you are to be a full disciple of Jesus. Its a hard line to walk. It means giving up all your possessions, all your family, all your desires and dreams and ambitions and surrendering all to god because you believe that God's will is more important, better, and the true way of life. It means some very difficult choices and means changing the way those choices are made. Following the path of discipleship is not something everyone knows how to do. The easiest way to say it is, "Let go, let God." Four little words that turn the world upside down. 

"On one hand, Jesus makes it very difficult to be his disciple. It will cost us everything 
and we need to know the cost before 'jumping' in. On the other hand, Jesus may be
making it impossible to be his disciple on our own abilities? When we confess, 'I can't,' 
then we are open for God's 'I can.'" (Exegetical Notes by Brian Stoffregen at CrossMarks Christian Resources.) Because God can make us truly full disciples of Jesus, even if we can't do it ourselves. Even more, God has plenty of other benefits that come along with the costs.

What are the benefits of being a disciple of Jesus? 

Foremost what pops into my head is: Saving grace! I have a feeling this is going to be a long list. The fruits of the Spirit from Paul's letter to the Galatians: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. The sense of belonging to something greater than oneself, helping to build up the kingdom of God, finding meaning in our lives, and in the world, despite it's craziness, having a deep and strong relationship with God, seeing the world in a new way with new eyes. Humility. Tenacity. Community support. Knowing who you are as both a sinner and a beloved child of God. For the congregation as a whole, the benefits of individual members being disciples of Jesus are a sense of authenticity, openness, accountability, the ability to struggle and the ability to be light, to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. 

What do you think? I think so! These things are not as concrete of benefits as say, food, clothing, or a new tv. Yet, I believe these benefits have more value. Does this list outweigh the costs? I believe yes. Has this cost benefit analysis been helpful? For me, it has helped me identify a few areas of my life in which I need to work at letting go. Paying the price of discipleship and paying attention to what God is calling me to do. 

We can see, it is not a simple and straightforward path. Becoming a disciple means having to make the choice to be a follower of Jesus every day, every way, over and over again when we face choices between the world and Jesus. Of course, sometimes we cop out and we say that Jesus understands. Yes, Jesus understands, Jesus understands everything, but that doesn't mean the choice was the right one. Following Jesus cannot be a spontaneous choice. It takes commitment, tenacity, and faith to follow Jesus. Being a disciple something that needs to be reflected upon, examined, looked at, analyzed. Are we called to be disciples of Christ? I believe that we are called to be disciples of Christ. That though we cannot give up everything on our own, our choice to try, our choice to be in deeper relationship with God will lead us into realizing the grace that God has already given us. So that in the end, we are not leaping into faith, but leaping for joy in the love of Jesus.

Humility, or Knowing Who You Are - Proper 17C

28 August 2016 
Proper 17C 

Imagine with me for a moment planning for your daughter's wedding. 
Some of you have been on that train before, some of you are still looking forward to doing that in the future, and some of us may never do such a thing, but imagine it with me for a moment. Everyone is getting ready for the big day in the months leading up to it, and you spend countless hours checking out the banquet hall, picking out the table settings, the food and the order of its serving. You pay thousands of dollars in anticipation of the biggest party you'll ever throw. Then one day your daughter comes home with devastating news. The marriage is off. The wedding is not going to happen. In the after math of the emotional storm, you remember that you have already paid for a lavish four course meal in one of the ritziest halls in town. 
What are you going to do? 
A couple of years ago, a couple in Atlanta found themselves in this very situation. Do you know what they did? Instead of hosting a wedding reception, they gave the banquet to the local food pantry. Instead of 200 classy, dressed to the nines, family and friends, they hosted 200 homeless people, men, women, and children, to the banquet of a lifetime. It was a learning experience for everyone, the family who hosted and the people who attended. Many would say it was a once in a lifetime event, except now, the family has since hosted, with the help of sponsors across the city, multiple years of this same event. Treating the outcasts of society to a banquet like none other. 

I believe this is the kind of overturning of society and economy Jesus is talking about in 
the gospel passage this morning. Not many people would do such a thing, though we would all like to believe that we would be so graceful to manage to do similarly in their 
situation, but I am pretty sure it would be a challenge for most of us. We aren't used to 
this kind of overturning of our social and financial systems. 

In the first century, the major class systems were based on birth status and honor. In 
Jewish society, who you could eat with and when and where was all determined by the 
honor system. Honor was such an important aspect of society in those days. There was a 
long in-depth, not-written down list of rules about what could be done with who and who could be seen with who in what capacity and so forth. Society elite has been functioning this way for millennia. So, when Jesus tells the people at the dinner at the Pharisee’s house that they should all be inviting the blind, the lame, the poor, the sick to their banquets, Jesus is overturning proper society. All of the people that Jesus mentions are outcasts in society. It would look odd for a Pharisee to be inviting those outcasts to his house for dinner. There would go his honor, it would have some major dents in it then. There would go his place in society. 

In the twenty first century world, we like to think we have gotten past this idea of class 
systems. That everyone is on the same level playing field. But you and I both know that 
the way we relate to each other is through the money system, that’s our American class 
system. We have less concern with honor as our status symbol, instead, we have money 
and the luxury additions that come with money. Clothes, cars, tvs, jewelry, and so on.
Bishop Andrew Doyle of the Diocese of Texas writes on his blog, “I have a friend who 
likes to say, “The reason Jesus was killed is he ate with sinners.” It always strikes me as a 
shocking thing to say. I believe it challenges me because I don’t like to think on a day to 
day basis that in America we have a class system. […] it is just difficult to see. I 
mentioned this to a friend and priest and we had a long discussion about the matter and 
he said something I had not thought of before. He commented on the fact that Americans are able to purchase anything. A member of the middle or lower middle class, even some of the lower classes can wear the clothes the rich wear; they can eat at the restaurants the rich eat in. He said this gives the false idea of a level playing field and makes money the central commodity in the system that moves you up and down. Therefore your class is established essentially based upon your longevity to afford any particular lifestyle; whether you can afford it for an hour at a fine dining establishment or a weekend in a posh resort.”

Whether we want to acknowledge this fact or not, we call all testify to judging other 
people based on their clothing, on their car, or their house, or their stuff. We are very 
effective at this kind of judging and separation in our lives. Its part of the system we use 
to determine who we are. We all long to know where we stand in the world, and in this 
system, our use and amount of money defines how we belong in society, which in turn, 
defines who we are. 

However, Jesus invites us to know who we are through a different system. Not based on 
our births or our honor, what other people think of us or the amount of money we have. 
Jesus invites us to know who we are based on a system that is hardly a system at all. 
Jesus invites us into knowing who we are based on how God sees us. And luckily, Jesus 
tells us how God sees us. He sees us in two ways, as sinners, and as beloved. 
The major theme of the gospel passage this morning is about humility. Humility, being 
humble, not relating to other people through honor or money, but through knowing who 
you truly are. Humility is a spiritual practice that requires knowing who you are. It’s a 
spiritual practice of the hardest sort. Accepting the fact that we are both created with the 
potential for both good and bad actions. That we are made out of the same material, carry the same type of energy, watch the same television shows as people who are evil and people who are saints. We are made of the same stuff as what is at the bottom of the latrine, and we are the same stuff as what powers the stars in the sky. Frederick Buechner wrote, "True humility doesn't consist of thinking ill of yourself but of not thinking of yourself much differently from the way you'd be apt to think of anybody else. It is the capacity for being no more and no less pleased when you play your own hand well than when your opponents do." 

Once we acknowledge that we are all both sinners and beloved, we can related to each 
other through humility, acting as Jesus describes in the gospel passage this morning. 
Inviting the poor and blind and lame and the homeless to the banquet without worrying 
about whether or not society will accept it, without worrying about whether or not anyone will steal anything. 

Humility is a spiritual practice that is seen and not heard. It is a spiritual practice that 
challenges us, but it is action that speaks louder than any words. It is an acknowledging 
that you do not need to be the honored guest at the table. It’s hard to live the way Jesus 
describes in our gospel passage today. I struggle, we all struggle, with the challenge that 
God has put before us. To humble ourselves, to remember that we are all sinners and we 
are all God’s beloved children. 

What is your Spiritual Practice? - Proper 16C

21 August 2016
Proper 16C

As you may have guessed, I am a lover of words. Today’s gospel passage shares with us the story of Jesus healing a woman and the fall out that comes from his actions. Healing, literally means to make whole. A perfect definition for what Jesus does for this woman in the synagogue. He makes her whole again. 

Jesus healing this lady was a gift, a gift of compassion. Not sought for, not asked for. This woman never asked to be healed. There she is minding her own business in the synagogue and Jesus interferes with her life. Simply a gift out of the goodness of Jesus' heart. He saw her and felt for her and knew he could make her better. 

Yet, this gift from Jesus was quite disturbing to the leader of the synagogue where it took place. Interestingly, the leader of the synagogue doesn't seem to be surprised that the woman is healed of a demon that has kept her bent over and away from God for 18 years. No. What surprises and bothers him is the fact that she is healed on the Sabbath day and that's not what that day is for. This leader seems to be a man who thinks that God should follow his rules. However, we know, God does not follow our rules. Jesus does not follow our rules. Jesus broke the Jewish Sabbath laws in this story in multiple ways. First, by calling this woman to come over to him in the men’s section of the synagogue from the women’s section of the synagogue. Second, by touching the woman on the Sabbath day. As an unclean person, such a touch would have ruined Jesus’ purity for the Sabbath practice. Third, by healing this woman on the Sabbath day! This woman whom he has called and touched and healed, on the day that is supposed to be dedicated completely for rest and God. Three strikes and you’re out. Jesus’ compassion cannot be confined by our boundaries, his compassion goes beyond all our rules. 

Last week, Jesus told his followers, now is the time. Today he makes no statements, no grand gestures, yet he leads us by example. After last week, when Jesus practically issued an altar call telling us that now is the time we should be paying attention, now is the time to get right with God, now is the time to be in a relationship with God, we see him putting his thoughts into action. He reminds us that now is the time to be with God. What better day than the Sabbath day? 

The Jewish leaders of the time taught that the Sabbath day was about God and doing no work. Nevertheless, it seems there is another kind of understanding about the Sabbath day at play here. Jesus seems to say, that the Sabbath day is about spending intentional time with God. And many times, this doesn't feel like rest at all. It isn't calming or easy. So we have definitely misunderstood what Sabbath means. What does Sabbath really mean? What does it mean to incorporate Sabbath into the schedule? Jesus didn't call the leaders of the synagogue hypocrites because the Sabbath is simply about rest and they do a little bit of work on the day. Yes, he can get nail them on that because it was part of the rules and they loved to live by all the rules and have all the little t's and i's dotted and crossed. But the Sabbath is really about spending time with God. Intentional time. Not just unexpected time when something comes over us, but week after week, year after year, spending time with God for listening, conversation, and learning. Spending Sabbath time with God should be as intentional as spending time with friends or family. The woman is healed and reunited with God in a way and what better day to do that then the intentionally set aside day to be with God. It was as if someone complained about confession and absolution shouldn't be done on the Sabbath day because it was work. But we do that every Sunday on our Sabbath day! Because confession and absolution brings us back into alignment with God. Which does sounds like the Sabbath day. Healing is an act of work designed to bring us back into relationship with God. 

How can we practice Sabbath then?
By coming to church! Check! Well done! 

We can practice Sabbath in a myriad of ways. Daily devotions of any kind, reading a devotional book, reading a theological book, reading scripture, practicing meditation, centering prayer, lectio divina, prayer during daily activity, gratitude lists or jars, sharing God’s healing in this world in community service.. almost anything can be a spiritual practice, designed to build our relationship with God. What matters is the intent. What matters is building our ability to listen and be open to the spirit. I said almost anything, because there are some things that cannot be spiritual practices. Being mean. Being selfish. One of my seminary professors, while teaching us about spiritual practices told us, "Can you pray while washing dishes? Yes. But can you wash dishes while you are praying?” Our intention and focus matters, even in spiritual practices. But even if taking a few minutes out of your day to be with God seems selfish to other people, who constantly want or need you, it is not. No sirree, and you can tell them I said so. If you have a hard time finding time to spend with God every day, let me know. I will do my best to help and support you. We believe that when we die, we go to be with God. And that will be very awkward if we don't already know God. 

It can be hard to start a spiritual practice when not used to doing so on your own. Christianity is a very communal religion, but it is also a very personal one. Having a personal practice both enhances worship for everyone present, and strengthens your own spiritual relationship with God. Some of the easiest practices to start with are the embodied ones. Finding a specific way to sit or stand or kneel in a specific place to pray or be with God. Jesus used touch throughout his ministry, and we continue this practice in our communities today, in reaching out to each other to share the peace, in holding hands together in prayer, in baptism, in communion, in touching and tasting bread and wine.

How is God calling you to be in relationship with him? We tend to save thinking about specific spiritual practices for Advent and Lent, when we know that we are trying to prepare ourselves for something to come. However, God is not calling us to be relationship with him during Advent and Lent. God calls us to be in relationship with him always. As a priest, as your priest, it is not my job to tell you how to have your relationship with God. It is my job to support you in your relationship with God. Which is a very different thing. Like your best friend or a family member, who supports you in your marriage, but doesn't tell you how to have your marriage. Who gives you suggestions and advice, who challenges you, but who doesn't end up talking to your husband, wife, or significant other in your place. In the end its your choice how to be in relationship with those around you. Including God. But I'm here to tell you the benefits of such a relationship are immense. God wants to be in relationship with each and every one of us.

The Time is Now - Proper 15C

14 August 2016
Proper 15C

“I wish it need not have happened in my time," said Frodo. "So do I," said Gandalf, "and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
This is one of the more well-quoted scenes from JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Ring series. Like Frodo Baggins, we do have had to go through things we wish we didn’t need to go through. Unlike Frodo Baggins, we do not have to walk into the most dangerous kingdom on the map to destroy a powerful ring that could be used by the most evil man in the world to destroy the world, thankfully. But like, Frodo, we too have to decide what to do with the time in our lives that has been given to us.
In the gospel passage this morning, Jesus is questioning what the people of his time are doing with their lives. It’s a question a few of us may ask ourselves now and again. What am I doing with my life? An existential question du jour. Everyone gets more or less about eighty years on this planet and usually at some point during the that time, wonder what we are supposed to be doing with all that time. 
The thing about all those eighty years is that we only get to live in one moment at a time. Sometimes that fact can seem so overwhelming. It seems so little and, yet, we feel there is so much for us to do. We live in a time, like Jesus’ time, where most people were questioning what the world was coming to, where violence was everywhere, where people did not feel safe. Where all we have is now and now seems so insufficient. While we do not have powerful magical rings that need to be cast into fire, there are things we need to take care of and sometimes that does add a little bit of fire in our lives.
Jesus feels this pressure too, and he shows it in the gospel passage today. Jesus says he came to bring fire and how he wished it was already kindled. How he came to bring division. How he came to teach the people the signs and how he wished they already knew. He knows his time is short, he mentions the baptism with which he will be baptized and the stress that this puts on him. The fire that Jesus came to bring was judgment, the division a new loyalty, loyalty to God that usurps our loyalty to our families, the baptism his passion and death, and to teach us the signs of the coming kingdom of God. 
However, as good of a teacher as Jesus was, we still do not always understand. 
For most of us, when we see clouds or winds, we know what is going to happen sooner or later with the weather. When we see signs of weather crises coming, we definitely respond. The people of Palestine in Jesus’ time knew how to respond when they saw signs of impending weather. They had to protect themselves and their crops. We shut up our windows and we make emergency plans. Some of us have emergency plans and are prepared for weather crises, and some of us are even prepared for crises of other kinds. Beyond weather, we know the signs of when major political news is going to break, we know the signs of when there will be new releases of movies or games, fashion trends or car breakthroughs. “We know how to interpret current day issues. We're techno-savvy. We have scientific theories and precise machines of all sorts. We can communicate around the world in nano-seconds—but why do we not know how to bring the Kingdom of God to our fractured world?” asks Susanna Metz. We have been working at this for centuries, yet still we have not figured it out. 
Part of the problem is that we ourselves get in the way of seeing the signs. As humans, we love to look at the train wrecks happening in our world. Given the way the world stands right now, we can become totally engulfed in watching the news of these things. War has become normalized for us. We have accepted our society this way and though we grumble about it we haven't been able to work together enough to solve any of the major global issues of poverty, hunger, or crime. We are hypocrites, especially since we know things are not looking good going forward and yet we fail to acknowledge the figurative fact that it is going to rain. 
Jesus is getting on the case of his followers for ignoring signs of crisis in the world that have nothing to do with the weather. How resonant that is with what is going on in the world today. Can we not see the crisis that we are in? So much death and killing, division and hate. Blood is thicker than water, but it is through water that we are baptized into the family of God. Yet, still, Christians go up against Christians, and believers in God against other believers in God. Certainly in our day and age, in our country, with people being killed everyday for simply being who they are born to be, it can be hard to figure out what the big picture is. 
Jesus is really calling for us to pay attention in the gospel passage for today. You cannot read the signs of the weather unless you are paying attention to them. You cannot read the signs of the times unless you are paying attention to them and reflecting on what they mean. You can look at clouds and not draw the conclusion that it is going to rain and that you need to close your car windows unless you are paying attention. We’ve all been there, done that, seen the weather forecast and forgotten to close our car windows. We can look at the violence in our country, the prejudice in our towns, the hate infecting our neighbors, and the indifference of our own hearts, but unless we are paying attention we will not draw the final conclusion that we need to do something. We will not move towards action. We will not open ourselves up to the leading of the Holy Spirit and the direction of love.
When I think of Frodo and Gandalf having the conversation I quoted earlier, it occurs to me that even though the story of the Lord of the Rings follows the ragtag band that goes to destroy the ring that has come into Frodo’s possession, it does not share the story of the hobbits left in the Shire during their journey. But the reason for this is simple. The hobbits who stay in the Shire throughout the time of the book series live fairly normal lives. They do not have a part in the grand stage, they are ignorant of the things going on which could have destroyed their lives. Their story is one of people not involved, not paying attention. 
But that is not the story that God has called us to. No, we have not each been given a ring to destroy, but we have been given important work to do and sometimes that can feel terrifying. What is God calling us to do with the time given to us?
Jesus’s teaching for today almost sounds like a call to conversion, because it is. Now is the only time we can live into the life of Christ. In some ways, we are already making good decisions with our time, we’re here, right? But is that it? Is that all God is calling us to do right now? Because the signs that I have seen in the world, in the church, in our community, mean that the time is now. Now is the time to be in relationship with Jesus. Now is the time to act in love and imitate our teacher, our Savior. To declare our need for Jesus, to lay down our masks, tear down our walls, and let the light of the world shine through. We cannot wait until some future time. We will not be living in the kingdom of God later if we are not living into the kingdom of God now. Now is the time to give your heart. We have decisions to make, like Frodo Baggins of the Shire. May we, stick to our true calling and spend our time with God. 

Unexpected Gifts - Proper 14C

7 August 2016

A number of years ago, my father really got into Martin guitars. The Martin guitar factory is fairly close to where my parents live and my father used to love to visit the factory, go on the tour, and hang out in their guitar shop. They are very nice guitars and can be quite expensive. He had all the brochures for trying to figure out which model he wanted. But he knew money was an issue, so he set his mind on a simple classic dreadnought design. However what we all knew was that he really wanted an Eric Clapton model of East Indian rosewood with herringbone trim. On Christmas morning that year we all could see the wrapped guitar shaped present under the tree and we all got excited for my father. He slowly unwrapped the case and we were all gathered around. He opened it up and peered inside. And then all of a sudden he shut the case quickly, set the case down, and walked out of the room! He was so surprised and shocked by the fact that inside the case was not the less costly dreadnought. Instead, sitting inside the case was a gleaming Eric Clapton. He didn't even know what to do with it. It took him a couple of days to work up to being able to actually take the guitar out of the case and try it out.
Unexpected gifts - occasionally we all give or get them. Those are the gifts you don't know what to do with or the ones that completely stop our hearts and minds because of their overwhelming hugeness and our feelings of unworthiness. Some of them are plain odd and only later do we realize what they are for or what it cost/meant to the person who gave them to us.
When I think of all the gifts that God has given me, life, a vocation I love, family and friends, a good home and community, and above all his love and forgiveness for all the sins and mistakes I have done in my life, I cannot imagine that God needs to give me anymore gifts. Instantly, I feel unworthy of receiving any other gifts. Yet, Jesus tells us in the passage today that it is God's good pleasure to give TO US the KINGDOM OF GOD. I mean, what does that mean?! But Jesus also says in that same sentence, "Do not be afraid." Do not be afraid of the idea that God is going to give you the kingdom of God. Do not think to yourselves that you are unworthy. Rachel Held Evans, "Ours is a culture of achievement, of sufficiency, of bootstrap pulling and ladder climbing. We celebrate the winners, the leaders, the do-it-yourselfers. Like any good American, I like to wait until I think I've earned. I like to wait until I think I've deserved. With giving, I can maintain some sense of power, some illusion or control. But receiving means the gig is up. Receiving means I'm not the boss of what comes into life - be it trial or trouble or unmerited good." God is not going to give us such a gift as the kingdom of God because we are going to make ourselves worthy of such a gift. He wants to give us this gift out of love.  In the verses of Luke 12 before what we hear this morning, Jesus tells his followers about how God cares for the lilies of the field and the birds of the air. How they don't feed or clothe themselves and yet they have everything they need for life. (Instead we hear this part of Jesus’ teaching from Matthew at another time. The poster boy for this is Francis of Assisi. He was brave enough to get an audience with Pope Innocent the III and quoted to the richly adorned pope and his court these verses. Francis threw the court of the Pope into outrage. Perhaps there is some reason to be afraid, these verses speak truth to power.) God wants to give us everything we could ever possibly want or need, if we are aligned with God's heart. 
It’s that "if we are aligned with God's heart" bit that causes the trouble though. Immediately after telling us that God wants to give us the kingdom of God, Jesus tells us to sell our possessions and give alms, to examine what our treasures are, to look at what we most value in our hearts. Because if what we value is something else, a possession, pride, fame, fortune, money, the gift of the kingdom of God isn't going to seem like treasure. If all you want in life is American fame, then God could give you everything else in the world and you still wouldn't feel like you were given the right gift. But if we are grounded in God, if what we value is God and we are living that out through valuing each other and caring for each other than the kingdom of God is going to seem like a marvelously overwhelming gift that we are unworthy by ourselves to receive but through the grace and love of God, accept. Many times this last part, the accepting part is the hardest part.
Which brings us to the next part of what Jesus says in the gospel passage this week. He tells his followers to be prepared. Almost seems like a Boy Scout moment. But it is a necessary part of receiving any gift, especially the kingdom of God. Rachel Held Evans in her book, Searching for Sunday, writes, "It seems those mostly likely to miss God's work in the world are those most convinced they know exactly what to look for, the ones who expect God to play by the rules." Now, we know, from reading the Bible and through our own experiences, that God doesn't always play by the rules. Jesus, especially by comparing God to a thief, it doesn't sound like Jesus is describing a God who plays by the rules. This took me by surprise, God as a thief? As I thought about it, I realized there is an apt comparison here. God wants what is most valuable to us. That does make God sound like a thief! There is a fear factor here too. Many thieves leave destruction in their wakes, and does God? Sometimes. Certainly in the Old Testament there is some destruction in the wake of God and the Israelites on his behalf. There is always confusion and feelings of vulnerability after being stolen from. Certainly, after an encounter with God, there is confusion and vulnerability on our part. After thieves take your things, you have to build a new life, and after an encounter with God, you definitely have to build a new life for yourself, because the encounter changes your world view. It is a comparison, not expected to be literal or perfect. A metaphor is recognized to only go so far. But this comparison helps us see new things that change our perspective. Being prepared allows us to accept what God sends our way.
If we are not prepared to accept the unexpected gifts in our lives, when we get upset when a gift is not exactly what we wanted or thought it would be like, we miss the ability to see it as it is. We miss the intent, the purpose, the love that gives the gift and wants for us to accept. Thankfully, God doesn't care about giving us what we deserve. Out of the generosity and abundance of God's heart, God has given us more than we can ever know. More than we could ever return. God gave us creation, God gave us life, Jesus, and love. God wants to give us the kingdom of God. Most of the scriptural references to the kingdom of God include a huge feast, the heavenly banquet. Where we share with all the world as companions along the way, where no one goes hungry, and everyone belongs. What we share here today, at this picnic, in bread and wine, in the hotdogs and hamburgers, salads, casseroles, and cookies, is just a foretaste, just a hint, at the wondrous gift God has to give us. 
May we be open and prepared to accept his wondrous gift. Amen.

Being Rich towards God - Proper 13C

31 July 2016
Luke 12:13-21

They say that everything comes around again in popular culture, and recently, I have seen people posting online about the game, Hungry Hungry Hippos. Not just the board game anymore, it is also being played, all the way from preschools to nursing homes, with people acting as the hippos trying to capture kickballs. The object of the game is to gather as many of the balls as you can possibly get without anyone else stealing them. 
Hunger is an interesting aspect of our lives. Our first experience with hunger is the chemical signals our stomachs send to our brains telling us that our bodies need nutrients. This is definitely a good thing. We don’t want to starve to death. Beyond our bodies, we experience hunger in many other ways. We are hungry for good relationships, for peace, for comfort, for justice, for reconciliation. But some hungers can be destructive as well. When we hunger for more power, ambition, always to be right, or perfect, or for drugs of any sort, these drives can push us beyond our own safety and destroy our lives. We can be hungry for just about anything. When there is a figurative ‘pit in the bottom of your stomach and nothing can satisfy it,’ you just keep wanting more, more, and more. When we are always being hungry for more than what we have, we experience greed. 
Greed is a type of hunger. Usually we use greed to describe insatiable hunger for things like money, power, and fame.  Society teaches us that if some is good, then more is better. Right? The American commercial advertising byline tells us that we need more, need the newest thing, we need better. But more isn't necessarily better. The old examples are the facts that we need water and fire, but with both, more and more of them isn't a great thing, you can drown or be burned. But when it comes to buying things, we fall prey to the advertising. Apparently, "Two out of every ten Americans have surplus possessions in storage.” What do we need with all those things when we aren’t even using them? Perhaps we need to take a hard look at what we are hungry for in our lives.  And, it is not just individuals that are hungry, but also institutions. Some institutions are based around the goals of acquiring more money, more power, more security. But this greed is based in fear, yielding only sorrow and worry.
In the gospel passage this morning, what strikes me is the man's answer to his own question. "What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?" He asks himself.  And then we only hear one answer, "I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods..." What surprises me is that he doesn’t go through multiple options. He doesn’t think to himself, “I could sell the goods and have more money,” or “I could give some away,” or “I could store it up myself,” and weigh the options.  He goes completely for the option of storing it all up for himself.  And the man doesn't just say he will build another barn or build additions on his existing barns, no, he has to tear down the ones he has and start all over. He would probably be one of those people who had to get the newest version of the iPhone as soon as it came out every time, even if the old one was still properly working. 
The parable also begs the question about the man’s community, “Whose will they be?” Where will his possessions go when he dies?  We don't hear of any sons or friends in this story. There doesn't seem to be much community for this man, so when he dies all his goods will be left lying around and will go bad. Humanity has been asking the question, “What goes with you when you die?” for thousands of years. The ancient Egyptians are famous for burying their dead with their possessions, but others before them and since then have been buried with their possessions because we somehow believe that what we are buried with goes with us. Jesus, in this passage, doesn’t seem to believe that any of this man’s possessions will be going with him.
All of this points to our human need for a feeling of security. We hunger for security in so many ways. Do some of us pray for security? Probably. One of the major hungers these days is for security. We worry about our own safety and for the safety of those we love. We want to make sure that our loved ones are safe, are able to live in freedom and find happiness. We look for ways to protect ourselves. We used to live in towns where no one ever locked a door, but now we have major security systems. The news is full of stories of gun abuse and terrorism. We don't always like the feeling of not knowing, of the unknown, of being vulnerable. We try to protect ourselves, but we never can get fully covered. Storing up possessions is just one form of trying to shore up our feelings of security.  
However, Jesus was not concerned about security or safety in this life and world. His focus is on God and spreading God’s word. In this passage, Jesus’ focus moves to being rich towards God. What does it mean to be rich towards God? 
Timothy Johnson, a theology professor, says, "Luke has a very particular understanding of stewardship: “Wealth with respect to God [being rich towards God,] has two levels of meaning for Luke; the first is the response of faith, the second is the disposition of possessions in accordance with faith, which means to share them with others rather than accumulating them for one’s self.” (LTJ, 199)" 
When Jesus sends out his disciples, two chapters earlier in Luke, into the world with nothing more than what they are wearing, he expects the people they will meet to be generous with them. Sometimes we think we have to do it all ourselves. That is what the world tries to teach us, that we need to take care of everything in our world by ourselves. We need to attend to making sure we have all the security, new possessions, and power we can attain. But that is not what Jesus teaches us. Not only Luke, but in our lectionary readings for this week, the author of Colossians also says, "Seek the things that are above." Our treasure is not what we fill our stomachs with, but our treasure is our relationship with God. 
So what does it mean to be rich towards God?  If we look through Jesus’s teachings for what he thinks we should be giving to God, it is “compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, and above all love.  That is being rich toward God.  Our wealth is in what we value.  We value God by valuing each other.” (Bob Eldan)

Prayer - Proper 12C

24 July 2016
Proper 12C
My cousin has a two year old named Connor. In my family, currently, stories about Connor are ubiquitous. That's almost the only thing my Grandmother will talk about right now. Connor. when I was visiting her a couple of weeks ago, she told me stories about how seriously Connor takes prayer time. He always makes sure everyone is ready for prayer before dinner and he prays every day before bed. My Grandmother was talking to him one time and asked him if he had prayed for her the night before. The answer came back, “No.” My grandma was a bit surprised by this of course, and she asked him, “Do you ever pray for me?” “Yes.” He said. My grandmother was appeased, she told me, “Well, at least he is honest about his prayers.”
Honest prayers... are we praying honest prayers? Do we pray for people when we say we will? I have a system of writing people name's down in a special notebook of mine so that I cover everyone I say I will pray for. Though occasionally I do have to admit, I forget. As a community, how have we been praying together? Have we been covering all aspects of our lives? And the world?
Sometimes prayer seems so useless, so boring, so confusing. 
Jesus was seen to be praying all the time. I bet his disciples thought he had some kind of special trick up his sleeve. Of course, there was also the rival group, John's disciples, that had been given a specific way to pray (though, we don't know what John taught his disciples, we aren't given any more information it). But I can totally understand why the disciples asked Jesus the question. Perhaps they thought what they were doing for prayer just wasn't working. 
Jesus gives the disciples what we call the Lord's Prayer. His prayer is pretty specific about a few things and we can be grateful that the Lord's prayer caught on and came down through the tradition. This is not the only time Jesus teaches his disciples about how to pray. We have the comparisons with the Pharisees at other times in the gospels. But in this prayer, Jesus emphasizes a few aspects of a relationship with God that is so important. He pulls God close and personalizes him, God is not an enemy to be feared. God is not an abusive parent to be feared. We can be telling our needs to God day and night, even at midnight, knowing that God is always there for us. He reminds us to put something other than ourselves first, God's kingdom. He teaches us to be grateful for our daily sustenance, in the form of bread or whatever else it may be. “Bread” stands in for any of our needs: a job, our health, good relationships, peace. He teaches us to be mindful of forgiveness, not just that others should forgive us, but that we need to work on forgiving others. He teaches us to ask for protection from evil, from temptation, trial, and tribulation. Though, in many ages, this has been understood in more corporeal forms, embodied demons and spirits, we definitely still have evil walking around among us. 
The Lord’s prayer is a sign and symbol, a prayer and a cry, it means so many things. Alienation, destruction, love, belonging, praise, confusion, excitement, joy, sorrow, these are all things we experience in our daily lives, and all these things come out in the Lord's prayer. I once had a conversation with a teacher about the Lord’s prayer. She said that she didn’t understand why the Episcopal church said the same things over and over again. “Yes,” she said, “we learn them, the Lord's prayer, the Nicene Creed, and other such prayers by rote, we teach them to the children, but the Book of Common Prayer doesn't teach about them in any other way, it doesn't tell us what each line means.” I said, “That’s exactly why we say them over and over again. You can’t make a person grapple with something and take it on themselves unless you put it in their face over and over again. For us to learn what each line means, we have to grapple with it ourselves and know what it means for us. The hope is that someday the children will realize they have no idea what they are saying and will wrestle with it, and then they will have really learned the prayer.” 
Learning how to pray an honest prayer takes a lot of time and effort. But having that kind of relationship with God is extremely important. Of course, the Lord's prayer is not the only way to talk to God. We teach ourselves and our kids this form, so that they always have something to fall back on, even when they feel like they have no words to say. 
Prayer is primarily a time to learn. When all we get back from our prayer is silence we think God is not answering. However, the first language of God is silence. God’s voice is the sound of sheer silence, if you remember the story of Elijah from a few weeks ago. (1 Kings 19:12). We also can learn to speak that language, but we have to listen to that silence. And that can be really really hard to do. In our world today, we have so many voices trying to drown each other out, we have so much noise and busyness. It may seem funny, but one thing I have learned is that if I need help with something, even if it is prayer, to offer up a short prayer for that thing.  If silence is a hard thing to listen to, ask God for help with listening to and being okay with silence. What I have noticed in my own life is that I ask God to help me with my prayers, at some point, I have some kind of epiphany. Either I realize that I've been praying amiss or that I already got the answer and missed it or I learn something new about myself. So, if worry is constant companion, ask God for help with worry. Or whatever it is.
Jesus goes on in this gospel passage with a comparison between God and other people, and where other people will only go so far, God will go much further for us. God created us and he loves so much. Ask and it will be given you. 
Up until now, we each have been praying for our community, for the transition and for the start of new ministry together. (And please, keep that up! We aren't quite through transitioning yet!) But now as we start setting our sights on what may be next, we need to pray for our wider community, for Franklin, for where we can come alongside the Holy Spirit already at work in the world and join with it. I have seen with my own eyes the prayers you are answering with the good work y'all have already been doing through your support of the Shepherd's Green Food Pantry and the Emmaus Haven Shelter. I have heard stories of the good work at ABC Life Center. I have begun to see a vision of how St. John's is working and will continue towards growing and deepening in its relationship with God and the community of Franklin. The workings of prayer will not only share with us where God is at work, but will also change the world. Not necessarily in visible forms right away. Sometimes it is a slow process of learning and growing and eventually you realize what a difference all those prayers made. In my own life, I have seen the power of prayer in my growth as a person and a priest. But I am not done yet, and neither is anyone else in this room. There is always more to be learned and changed through prayer. We want to think of changing the world and building the kingdom of God in large ways, but from my experience, it is the smaller ways that end up making the most difference. Jesus teaches all of us that is it much more than just the words that we say when we pray, there are no magic spells or anything. Jesus says it is much simpler. He says, ask. Ask and listen. Knock, take the risk. Open yourself up to God. Be in an honest, prayerful relationship with God. And then great things will happen. 

Paying Attention - First Sunday at St. John's

17 July 2016
Proper 11C
First Sunday at St. John’s 

I am excited to be with you all here this morning. Excited, nervous, blessed, joyful, just a few of the words that describe how I am feeling right now.  This opportunity, to be with you, as priest and fellow follower of Jesus, is a dream come true for me in many ways. 
I was very glad also when I saw what the gospel passage for this morning is the classic Martha and Mary story. In some ways this passage was always hard for me to understand. I was the oldest child in my family with two younger brothers, and no sisters. And neither of my brothers were ever going to volunteer in the kitchen... nor were they the types to sit around with guests and listen to them. 
The standard interpretation of this passage has to do with contemplation and action... sisters focused on different things. "The two have often been contrasted, contemplation versus action, prayer versus deeds." About whether in our lives we are Martha, worried about the presentation, worried about the work, or whether we are Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus. "But this is a false dichotomy.  They are not really opposed; after all they are sisters.  Some spiritual guides try to connect the two by saying that what we plant in the ground of contemplation, we reap in the harvest of action," such as Meister Eckhart. But sisters, no matter how far apart they are in personality and practice, are sisters, and they are usually closer together in some ways than to anyone outside of the family. Contemplation and action are sisters and they are sisters that go hand in hand together. 
There is of course another dichotomy here, one between anxiety and peace. Martha is anxious and distracted while Mary is at peace in this scene. But in our world today, we need to focus less on the dichotomies, the differences between each of us, and more on the similarities. Our country, our world, is being pulled apart by the focus on the differences between us, race, gender, nationality, ability, and so on, but I want to focus instead on our commonalities. 
You may be wondering what similarity there is between Martha and Mary, they seem to be focused on such different things! The similarity between Mary and Martha in this passage is that they are both paying great attention. Martha is paying great attention to the details of offering Jesus and his friends hospitality and Mary is paying great attention to the overarching goal of hospitality. Both details and the overarching goal are necessary. The people do need to have a clean and properly prepared place and food to eat and Martha is making sure that will happen. Mary is making sure that Jesus and his disciples feel accepted and attended to by listening to them. They are both paying attention and being mindful of different aspects of hospitality. 
I do not want to judge either aspect of their attention. But it is only when Martha turns away from her details, notices something beyond her details of hospitality, does she complain. Jesus offers what sounds like a judgment and we are quick to jump on that train. We like when others are judged... because we want to judge and be judged (granted, we want to be judged well, to be noted for doing the right things, but that is still judgment). Martha knows what needs to be done, and there is ALWAYS work to be done. It never ends. There are always more things that can be done. And yet there are some things that really need our focus. Jesus highlights one of the essential notes of hospitality, to pay attention to another. 
Here at St. John's, There are details to be taken care of, but we need to spend some time together at the feet of Jesus – because that is the core of who we are and we won’t be able to get anything done together if we are not grounded in who we are in Christ. We come together here to focus on the things which will not be taken away from us – which are the things of God.
First, to remember who we are and who's we are. We are God's beloved children. The people God sent his Son into this messy world to save because he loves us so much. Second, to remember the mission to which we have been called. Our mission is to love and serve the world around us, to share God's light in the world. We sit at the feet of someone who has faced down evil, suffering, and death, and has triumphed over all of them through his resurrection. This is the light that we are to share with the world, especially after the past few weeks of world suffering. 
I hope that we will move forward in peace and not in anxiety. Anxiety takes us away from what we are doing and Jesus teaches us to focus on what we are doing, who we are doing it with, and where God is in that activity. I mean, we don’t want to miss where God is at work in our lives!
The world is a confusing hard place. That is why we all need to spend some time focusing on Jesus, whether it is in an active way or a contemplative way or some other way. We have a journey together before us, and I am so glad that our gospel passage today leads us to the feet of Jesus. We shall start at the feet of Jesus and pay attention to what he is teaching us. 
There are transitions going on in the world, in Franklin, and in the community at St. John's. When in transition it is easy to become distracted and anxious. We want to focus on paying attention. Paying attention to the details and the overarching goals. My start here is not the beginning - I have come in on the middle of the story here at St. John's. It will be the start of something slightly new. You cannot add a person into a community, especially a new leader, without changing the dynamics a little. But the journey ahead of us is still long and while there is much to be done together, in prayer and service, contemplation and action, I want us to start by paying attention. Paying attention to where Jesus is already at work in our community. Paying attention to what we are working on and how it fits into the building up of the Kingdom of God. I want us to pay attention to what is leaking, what has holes in it, what is going well and growing, in hospitality, in ministry, in spirituality, in worship, in evangelism, in our relationships, and our leadership. God has offered us a new call to work together in love and we need to pay attention to where God is calling us to move forward. We are all in this together. I believe that we are interconnected beings. God is calling all of us to pay attention and move forward together.