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.