Thursday, March 29, 2018

Beloved

Beloved
4/13/17 (Maundy Thursday)

we who say we would
do anything for each other
given unity in marriage
how often do we think to do the least

the least of these is washing feet
as evidenced by the Savior
struck with abundance he gave away
all the love of eternity

he died, he rose, he washes still
our dirty hearts of sorrow woe
stuck with grime, with sin, with silt
poured upon us in the tears of others

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Palm Sunday 2018


Palm Sunday

After another week with another school shooting,
I sit here listening to the Passion story with a heavy heart.
Why must we feel the need to act out on our fear and anger
by killing other people?
Hasn't the human race grown out of this behavior yet?
Alas,
we have not.

The senseless violence
of the Passion story is all too evident.
Even Pilate asks,
Why crucify him?
What evil has he done?
Jesus indeed had not committed any evil.
He stood for peace, for relationship with God
for caring about the poor and oppressed
he stood for love and grace and mercy.
And we gave him no mercy.
In our human fear and anger
we sentenced to death a man
who wanted to teach us a new way of living,
which scary and vulnerable as it is,
is also one of peace, justice, and eternal life.

Palm Sunday is a day of tension in the Christian life and story.
Traditionally, we start this day with the triumphant entry of Jesus
into Jerusalem
and then we read the story of Jesus' sentencing and crucifixion
and death.
Starting the morning with excitement and joy
and ending with violence and sorrow.
Why do we do this to ourselves?
Like any of us need any more tension or sadness in our lives?
Certainly, we don't.
We don't do this because we need more tension or sorrow in our lives.
Modern society gives us enough of that as it is.
We do this for numerous other reasons,
theologically, socially, pastorally, and literarily.
We need to remember the full story,
the whole story.
The Easter story next Sunday would not be the same
without knowing the sorrow, desperation, and abandonment
which comes first.
Theologically, we need to remember that Christ
has been through death.
That Christ knows our sorrows,
knows our pain and suffering
knows our fear and anger.
And as each week with a school shooting teaches us,
we are not good as human beings about living into tension
about reaching out in vulnerable and empathetic ways
to those we do not know
instead of acting out in anger and fear.

We need to learn how to live in the space
between knowing and labeling.
We live in spaces with other people
between being able to say that we know them very well
and having labeled them so that we don't need to get to know them.
We need to learn how to live joy
even in the midst of destruction.
And to acknowledge our own part in the destruction
even when we can find all the reasons in the world to distance ourselves from it,
blame it on someone else, and act out against them.

We share the whole Passion Gospel narrative every year 
because we can learn from it.
Hopefully.
At least that is what we like to believe.
We remember this story every year
in hopes that, this year,
Jesus will change our hearts and our minds.
And times of tension are really the best times for that.
Think about it, when you're relaxed and happy,
you really have no incentive to make a change.
When you're completely safe and contented,
you have no desire to change your life.
But when you are stuck, caught in a tension in your life,
that is when change starts to happen.
Tension brings along some of its own benefits
surprisingly enough.
Creativity comes out of tension.
Progress forward comes out of tension.
Tension brings motivation and a boost of immunity and brainpower
and when worked through,
instead of acted out on,
brings resilience and tenacity.
Which is part of the reason
Christianity has survived for so long.
The early church was constantly in struggle
theological debates, persecution, natural disaster,
all led the people into conversation, choice, and adaptation
which has formed the church and allowed the church to carry on,
in many and various ways.
None of it was easy.
I highly doubt any saint, theologian, reformer, or bishop
of any previous age,
would say that it was easy.
Working through fear and anger
in constructive and reconciling ways
is never easy.
But it is important
and it is part of the calling of Jesus in following him.
Through death
and into resurrection.
We stand today in the middle of a messy
messy
messy
story.

The human story is not one which could easily be picked apart.
The layers of grief, struggle, fear, anger, sorrow
are heavy.
But Jesus stands in the midst of all of our stories.
In the midst of his Passion story,
in the midst of our stories of pain,
in the midst of shootings and deaths and disconnection,
Jesus stands
for hope,
for peace,
for mercy,
for love.
Let us walk through this story together this year
breathing God's grace deeply into each place of pain,
recognizing Jesus as he stands in the midst,
and following the promise of joy,
for the end 
is just the beginning.
Amen.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Longest Table

9/5/08


It is a long table
The banquet table meant for all
Like the path less traveled
The pure distance cannot be measured
It stretches into infinity
Depending on your place and vision
As in the plain regions
The table stretches off for miles
Letting people see each other
See the differences and similarities
See the unbounded nature
Of human population
But as those in the mountains know
Sometimes hills obscure the view
Leaving infinity to the sky
And imagination to the earth
Showing only those who you really
know
Or at least imagine so
But as the classic author writes
You can only really know
Your own story
The chair that is placed for you
Cannot be occupied by me
For as you know the place before you
I know the place laid for me
For here, the cup is not a chalice
Nor is it white, black or gold
The plate is painted lovingly
And the bowl is chipped
But your plate might be stone
And your cup jade
The magnitude of choices
As the flowers of the meadow
Each one crafted marvelously
And each one completely different
Enhancing the table’s colors
As a masterpiece’s painting
The variants are told
Every color separate entities
Each one a part of the whole
Of the longest table
Like the path less traveled
No matter how far you can see
You can only see a part
Even a table can meander
Changing shape and depth
And height and substance
As that great river
Changed the shape of lands
Here is the longest table
Take a look for remembrance
For the fog will rise off the water
And obscure the vision
For vision is the idealist
And the hills will then hide
The length and breadth of
The longest table

Planting is Hope

Q. What is the Christian hope?
A. The Christian hope is to live with confidence in newness and fullness of life, and to await the coming of Christ in glory, and the completion of God's purpose for the world.  (The Catechism, BCP 861)

Hope is one of those four letter words which we aren't always sure really mean something. We hope for so many things in our lives, but that certainly doesn't mean those things happen. Hope can seem so wishy washy. A dream, a wish, a hope. However, C. R. Snyder, a psychologist and researcher, spent time researching hope and found out that hope really is an important aspect of human life. Even better, hope is less of an emotion or desire and more of a goal. Hope can be learned, and when we learn hope we figure out where we want to go, we determine how to get there, and we believe in ourselves. Hope is the combination of goals, determination, and belief in ourselves. Hope is something we can share with others, when we work with others in achieving our goals.

As I have been thinking about our word of the year, I've started thinking about hope. Planting is an act of hope. People who plant seeds or gardens are starting a journey with a goal (of having a flower or vegetable or fruit or herb), having determined that planting is the pathway forward, and believing in the combination of sun, water, soil, and care which will enable the seed to grow. Planting is an act of looking forward to the future. Not many people plant a seed and expect that nothing will happen. People want and expect that the seed they plant will grow into something bigger.

As we move this week from Lent into Holy Week, we are faced with remembering the story of salvation, in all its pretty and not so pretty bits. As we go through the story, we plant the seeds of confidence in the fullness of life offered by Jesus Christ in  the promise of the resurrection. Each year, we remember the story and we continue planting the seeds of new life, or replanting the seedlings of new life, hoping and trusting in God. 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Looking Back - Looking Forward

3/16/18

Luke 17:31-33 "On that day, anyone on the housetop who has belongings in the house must not come down to take them away; and likewise anyone in the field must not turn back. Remember Lot's wife. Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it."

What Jesus has to say isn't always easy to listen to. Our survival instincts want us to try to make our lives more secure at all times. Living into tension and uncertainty is very difficult. However, following Jesus means we have to trust him. Jesus calls us into a new future. Jesus calls us to live into the Kingdom of Heaven, a very different future than the past.

The Forward Day by Day reflection for today says this, "Maybe Lot's wife thinks she needs a minute to grieve, to take tally of the good old days. But Jesus asks us not to look back, to move ahead. Give your life into his hands. Entrust your future to Jesus - for there, and only there - can we live in true security and peace. Moving Forward: Looking back is a hard habit to break. How can you look forward instead? What good things are you willing to pray and look for in your future?"

In the church, we tend to think our good old days are in the past. Yet, we don't know what lies in the future. Perhaps the future will be more glorious than the past. Whatever the future holds, it will certainly be different than the past, or even the present day. This world is full of insecurity, strife, and destruction. The future which Jesus calls us into is one of faith, hope, and love. 

Friday, March 9, 2018

The Gospel of the Unexpected

Part of the greatest joy and frustration in our lives is that certain aspects of it cannot be planned for, events never happen when you expect them. Expectations come up over and over again in the gospel story of Luke, usually with Jesus breaking other people's ideas of who he should be and what he should be doing. Indeed, listen to the stories he tells! The story in the passage for today from chapter 14, a man decides to share a great dinner with lots of people. He wants to share his abundance with others. He wants to share his joy with others, to share with them the substance of life, not only food, but community. Yet, his guests make excuses about showing up. They were not open to the unexpected in their lives and they turn down this open opportunity and invitation to participate in the man's joy. One says he has to tend to some land, another has some oxen to deal with, another has just gotten married. All important aspects of life, but all things which keep them from participating in God's unexpected work in the world. Instead, the man throwing the dinner invites anyone who will come, those who are open, people on the streets, the poor, the crippled, the blind, the lame.

Many times our expectations can hold us back. Perhaps the original dinner guests had been expecting more time to prepare or for the invitation to come on another day. Either way, their expectations of what should happen keep them from participating in the man's joy and abundance. How often do your expectations hold you back? What expectations of Jesus are you learning to let go of? How has reading Luke helped you accept Jesus for who he is and what he is doing, instead of your own expectations? What expectations are you still holding onto? Lent is a season of examination and sometimes simply the practice of examining our own lives in God's light allows us to make changes for the better, to let go of things which are holding us back. 

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Continuous Functions


In mathematics there are functions
everything has a function
despite not being as you might wish
everything has a function

the sun itself has its function
changing hydrogen to helium
providing light and heat for us to use

but there are many tunnels, with many lights
and each light can only illuminate
that which you allow yourself to see

however, the critical point is not the light
nor the seeing, nor the feeling
but the entire function
for without the sun, there would be no life.

Life, life they say
is more than the sum of its parts.
But life is not a sum, nor a series
it is a continuous ongoing experience
a function of useless carbon

Our lives are made up of the critical points
where we choose to really live
we may not see them as they fly
we may not even ever guess
as to the function defining our lives

But everyone has a light
a light with which to see the past
and fight the dark
the dark of empty loneliness
of tomorrow's dawn

And thus, life goes on
with or without us, mathematics does not care
the sun is not for us to see

[even this flashlight by which I write
cannot illuminate
that which I wish to see
for that is not its function

the only light whose function equals
that which I dare to see
is that flimsy greyness, wish,
wish, whose function is to entice
our vision from what truly is

And thus again, I say goodnight
to this critical point of life

instead of passing continuously
I have broken the bounds
that held false life
negating the flimsy greyness
of what might have been
and what might still be

changing the growing darkness
into rejoicing dawn]

(25 October 2010)

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Third Week of Lent - Boundaries


"He only says, "Good fences make good neighbours."
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
"Why do they make good neighbours? Isn't it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
and to whom I was like to give offense."

This is a portion of Robert Frost's poem, Mending Wall. 
The poem talks about mending a wall in the spring with the neighbor on the other side. 
It goes through how the wall fell apart, and as we heard, we hear him wonder
about why there is a wall in the first place.
The only thing the neighbor says in the poem is
"Good fences make good neighbours."
But Frost brings up a good question in these lines
why do good fences make good neighbors
why build a wall
is it because you're walling something in
or walling something out?
It seems that there are good walls, 
which keep people safe,
and then there are bad walls,
which keep people apart.

Though Frost wrote this poem more than a hundred years ago,
it still pertains to us today.
The question of walls or boundaries
is quite a serious one.
Recently the question about President Trump's wall between Texas and Mexico
has gotten many people up in arms, both in favor and against. 
Even more recently, the Winter Olympics in Korea
reminded us all of the tension between North and South
split with the DMZ, the demilitarized zone,
a long fence splitting the country in two.
And while we have these recent examples
controversial walls between neighbors is not a new thing.
The Berlin Wall
The Israeli West Bank wall along the Green Line
The wall in Baghdad.

Unfortunately though
it seems these walls 
haven't created good neighbors.
The amount of fighting, rallying, negotiation talks, and protests
which happen around these walls
doesn't make it look like any of them are helping 
develop good boundaries.
Just because we have physical walls
doesn't mean we have good healthy relationships.

However, boundaries are very important in our human lives.
We need boundaries 
to lead happy healthy lives.
Boundaries are involved in pretty much everything we do as human beings.
In order to be clear, the definition of boundary
is what is okay in a situation and what is not okay.
Basically, knowing where the line is between okay and not okay.

We have boundaries in all aspects of our lives.
Physical boundaries
such as our skin
our personal space
our privacy.
We have emotional boundaries
our circles of trust and confidentiality.
We have financial boundaries
our own personal accounts
business accounts
and lots of laws to keep those boundaries in place.
We have social boundaries
both stated and unstated 
which let us know what is okay to do with other people and what is not okay to do with other people.
We have occupational boundaries,
which determine what is our job and what is not our responsibility.
(We all know the phrase, "That's above my pay grade."
which is a boundary we all know when something is not our responsibility.)
In every aspect of our lives there are healthy boundaries
necessary to keep us whole, safe, and able to function. 

Yet, we also have lots of unhealthy boundaries floating around in our society.
Where it seems acceptable to break other people's feelings of what is okay and not okay.
We have seen this explode with issues of sexual harassment and abuse in the last year.
Unhealthy boundaries lead to conflict, disrespect, and distrust.
All of which we have in gigantic amounts throughout our society.

In her research on people living wholehearted lives,
Brene Brown, a social researcher working in topics of shame, resilience, and living healthy lives
points out from the data
that one of the most compassionate things we can do as human beings 
is have good clear boundaries. 
Where we know for ourselves what is okay and what is not okay
and we talk with other people in respectful ways when boundaries are broken.
Respectful, healthy communities are built around people who have healthy boundaries.

And while Brene Brown's research has only come out in the last couple of years
this idea of good community being born out of having good boundaries among people 
is so ancient
its biblical.

We see the first example
in our reading from Exodus for today.
Exodus was written sometime in the 15th century BC,
So about three and a half thousand years ago.
God gives Moses the Ten Commandments
which are to govern the community of Isrealites in their life together 
and in relationship with God.
The Ten Commandments
are rules, effectively, good boundaries of what is okay, and what is not okay,
for the people to do.
God says, it is not okay for us to have any other gods than God.
Its not okay to murder other people.
Its not okay to covet what other people have or to gossip about them with other people.
God says we definitely should
keep sabbath time, to rest,
we need to respect other people, especially our parents.
The people who had fled from Egypt
were trying to create a new kind of nation
a new kind of community
and having healthy boundaries 
good rules for communal living 
were very important to the health, safety, and longevity of the community.

Even in the gospel story for today from John
the story of Jesus overturning the market tables in the temple
is a story with boundaries 
and the breaking of boundaries 
at the heart of it.
Jesus goes to worship in the temple
and finds the place having been turned into a marketplace.
Understandably at that time
there was still animal and crop sacrifice going on in the temple
and people did need to buy cattle or birds 
or grains or fruits in order to give to the temple.
However, the understanding is that the money changers and market sellers in the temple at that time
were gouging the people who came to worship.
They were lining their own pockets and being unfair to the people.
They were breaking the good boundaries of living in community
they were preying on the poor people of the land.
Jesus drives them out.
He reinforces the good boundaries of the community
making clear that what was going on is not okay.
Jesus' mission in the world is to return the people
including us
to right relationship with God.
Which does mean pointing out the ways in which we have strayed from that relationship
and broken its good healthy rules.

What does this mean for us today?
During this season of Lent
we are called to remember the ways in which we have broken the boundaries of good community
we are called to repent for the ways in which we have strayed from right relationship.
We are called to return to good healthy clear boundaries and community.
We are called to repair the relationships which have been broken among us.
Thankfully, Jesus has already promised us
that he will forgive us
he will rebuild the temple
though we chip away at its walls
with our brokenness and unhealthy boundaries.
Thankfully, God loves us more than we can imagine
and continues to try to meet us in right relationship.
Thankfully, we can rely on God's grace to catch us when we fail
and return us to faith and trust.

Like Robert Frost in his poem Mending Wall
we are given the opportunity each year
to mend the relationships
the broken places in our lives
and return to healthy good relationships 
with each other
and with God.
Amen.