Sunday, May 19, 2019

Fifth Sunday of Easter - Revelation Part 4

I'm sure some of you are wondering what this week's interesting engagement bit is going to be,
Or maybe not.
Well, in your pew you will find a bowl with a little capsule in it.
Do you know what the capsule is?
If you do, you might be able to figure out what the theme is for today.
Any guesses?

In the passage from Revelation today,
John hears God say that God will give a gift of water to all those who are thirsty
from the spring of the water of life.
The spring of the water of life
is a symbol of new and refreshed life.
Not quite the same as the fountain of youth so longed for 
by the medieval kings and queens of old.
God's water grants resurrection life,
God's water is the living water of Jesus Christ.

I'm going to walk around with a pitcher of water here
and all those who are "thirsty" or simply curious as to what is going to happen,
hold out your bowl,
and then drop the colored capsule in it.
It is regular water, but the imagery is good.
Just wait and see.

(walk around with pitcher of water)

In John's vision, we hear God say,
"See, I am making all things new."
Transformation is also a gift from God.
John sees God create a new heaven and a new earth,
a brand new creation.

Interestingly enough, the vision specifically leaves out the sea.
At that time, the sea was the primeval force of chaos, 
The sea signified unrest and turbulence,
not the order and goodness of God. 
That is why the sea was no more.
The vision compares and contrasts what God is doing in recreating the world,
by creating order and peace,
Instead of the chaos and turbulence which pervades our world today.
Thankfully, the vision doesn't leave out the goodness of water entirely.
We do have the water of life imagery,
God gives the water of life to those who are thirsty.

How is your bowl of water doing?
What has happened to your capsule?

It has been transformed.
No longer the dry little pills, all the same shape,
they have been made new with the gift of water.
Now we have lots of different shapes!
They have been transformed,
not of their own power,
but by our grace and purpose
Just as we are recreated 
not on our own power,
but by God's grace and purpose.

While most of us long for salvation, for some saving help,
like we talked about last week,
not all of us long for transformation. 
Yet, sometimes despite our best efforts,
God does offer us transformation
and we do transform throughout our lives.
Sometimes in very directed ways,
sometimes in more wandering ways.

Transformation is not always easy.
Okay, I feel I'm always saying things are not easy.
Most of life is not easy.
But good transformation is worth it.
Especially transformation in Christ.
Its another one of those things that happens 
and half the time we don't realize its happening
until we look back and see, golly!
Things have changed.
I am a process person, in that I like good processes.
They make sense to me, lined out step by step,
with progression forward and learning and testing and change.
However, not everyone is like me.
And some of us grow, learn, and change in very different ways.

God works in us without us always realizing it.
God is transforming the world around us all the time.
We move through an ever changing world
we move through death and new life hundreds of times in our lifetimes.

God is making all things new.
It is a promise, a threat, a comfort, and a warning.
We don't know what the world will be like when God is done making it new
We don't know what we will be like when God is done making us new

Another interesting note in the vision John sees is the community.
Not once in the book of Revelation is there a scene in the visions of heaven,
where there is only one person or angel or cherubim off doing their own thing
There is always community.
(Which is a bit of a scary prospect for an introvert like me... everyone else, all the time? Ah!)
But the comfort in this is that we are not in this alone.
Even as we change over time by ourselves,
This community transforms us as we grow into it.
God gives us this gift and will transform us together. 
We grow into the full stature of Christ 
as Christ formed his followers in the first century,
in community.

Throughout St. John's life, this parish and community has grown and changed.
At first it was a community that could barely hold together for regular services.
Then it blossomed into a wealthy congregation 
comprised of the social elite of Franklin.
Then it widened its focus and became a broad community church,
serving all those who come seeking God.
And while the congregation is changing these days mostly by growing older,
there is new life emerging in the new faces and people who are joining in,
seeking God and joining in the community
to be transformed into true followers of Jesus Christ. 

In Revelation, John wants to remind the churches of what God is doing for them. 
And what a better way than to show them what they have to look forward to.
A new heaven, a new earth, a new creation.
Fully lived and loved in God.

God is making all things new,
even our messy selves. 
God is working in us, 
drawing us closer to the heart of Love
transforming our hearts of stone into hearts of love,
and recreating us in community.

Let us praise God today in wonder of the truly marvelous work God is doing
in transforming heaven, earth, all creation,
even us,
into something that is good and holy and loved.


Friday, May 17, 2019

Fifth Sunday of Easter Reflection

Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Fifth Sunday of Easter, BCP 225)

The Call.

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a Way, as gives us breath:
Such a Truth, as ends all strife:
Such a Life, as killeth death.

Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:
Such a Light, as shows a feast:
Such a Feast, as mends in length:
Such a Strength, as makes his guest.

Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
Such a Joy, as none can move:
Such a Love, as none can part:
Such a Heart, as joyes in love.

From The Temple (1633), by George Herbert

I believe that God has given us free will, the freedom to make our own choices, in this world. For better or for worse, we face choices everyday. From when to wake up in the morning to when to go to bed at night, we must choose what and when and how and why we do what we do.

The collect for day quotes the gospel of John, chapter 14, verse 6 where Jesus says, "'I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'" The prayer asks God to help us to follow Jesus's steps along the way. We should probably pray this prayer every day, because every day we must choose to follow Jesus. Every day we have choices where we can invite God more deeply into our lives, or we can blindly wander around. Every day we have the choice to follow Jesus.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Fourth Sunday in Easter - Revelation Part 3

Not many of us probably use the word salvation on a daily basis.
Perhaps the word save, or saving, savings, or other variations.
Yet, salvation is a big part of the reason humans have religion.
We long for salvation. 
We long to be saved,
from all the mistakes, mess ups, pain, hurt, sorrow
that pervades our world. 
We want salvation, 
but we don't always understand it. 

Both fortunately and unfortunately,
Salvation theology brings lots of great vocabulary with it.
Preservation, protection, deliverance
justification, atonement...
and all this theological vocabulary can be confusing.

At its base, salvation is all about how much we need help,
and how we get it.
because none of us wants to admit that we need help,
in any way,
we find lots of dressed up, finessed, Gothic ways of talking about salvation,
but the end result is that we have to rely on God to save our 

There are many reasons John of Patmos talks about salvation in his Revelation.
No discussion of the end of time, 
the end of humans and history and Earth,
can be legitimate without discussing how any of it is going to be saved.
(It is funny to me that we hold onto the idea that any of it will be saved.)
Throughout the scriptures, 
there is a thread of discussion about how God is going to save people for eternity.
There is even some discussion about how God is going to save creation, not just humans,
but the trees, rivers, pollen, bees, flowers, badgers, and so on.
In this passage from Revelation, 
John highlights two important ideas concerning salvation:
First, the promise of divine protection during times of tribulation,
God will protect us from harm.
Second, the assurance of ultimate salvation,
God will save us in the end.

Let's face it.
We know,
and as scripture points out,
we have known for a long time,
how broken and messed up and in need of saving 
we human being are.

And if you think that perhaps we have gotten better
in the last six thousand years,
since the beginning of written down scriptures,
think again. 

As a country the United States has been at war for the last 16 years. 
Jails are running out of space, because crime rates cannot seem to be stopped.
Anger issues are becoming more and more felt and known.
Sexual harassment is common place in every type of environment. 
Gun violence has invaded schools, churches, synagogues, stores, homes...
We are destroying our planet at a unprecedented rate.
The City of Franklin's population has declined at a rapid rate.
All of this adds up to an overwhelming feeling of... 
ah! help!
Even in our community, more than a hundred families a month need help with groceries, utilities, necessities
in order to live.
People find themselves out on the streets with no where to go and not knowing who to turn to.
Within ourselves, we know the thoughts and deeds
that would make others cringe,
that make us cringe when we think of them.
Knowing we lashed out at others,
knowing we hoard things for ourselves we don't need,
knowing we think terrible thoughts about people without knowing them at all.
We know our brokenness and sinfulness.
We are in desperate need of help.
We don't want to admit it.
Even if what we do in coming to church is showing up every week seeking help,
from God and community,
we aren't going to admit that we actually need it or need to be here.
That would be too much.
Yet, we are longing for someone to save us.
We are waiting for someone to help us.
We want someone else to take care of all the things we cannot carry anymore.

The first century Christians felt the same way.
They were living through persecutions and economic fluctuations.
They wanted someone to solve their problems for them. 
They wanted someone to save them,
from the crazy Emperor, from the soldiers, from their neighbors,
they wanted a Savior.

John of Patmos reminds the first century Christians
and us today,
we have a Savior. 
Jesus has already saved us. 
Jesus is still saving us. 
Jesus will save us. 

Both John, the gospel writer, 
and John, the author of Revelation,
make clear that the Good Shepherd is the Paschal Lamb,
and the Paschal Lamb is the Good Shepherd.
Our Savior, our leader, our guide.

Luckily, John is very clear in his vision. 
All people, from every nation, all tribes, peoples, languages 
God gives salvation to all people 
A very inclusive God we have.
What John sees is a great vision,
no hunger, no thirst, no tears, no famine.
God offers protection and assurance 
God offers ultimate salvation,
saving from all the troubles, trials, tribulations,
and messiness of humanity.
And it is not something we can earn.
It is simply a gift.
A gift we can accept.

We can accept the gift of God's salvation
and stand with the great multitude 
and praise God saying,
"Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!"

We can accept the gift of God's salvation,
pray to God in our hearts and minds and souls,
"help me accept your salvation,
to know your saving grace deep within me,"
and stand with people of all nations, tribes, and languages,
and wave palm branches,
like the followers of Jesus did when he triumphantly entered Jerusalem,
proclaiming, "Hosanna!" 
praising God in the way of Revelation, in a sevenfold celebration.

"Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might
be to our God forever and ever! Amen!"

God is waiting for us to let go of all our troubles
to accept the gift of salvation and to stand with all those who have gone before us in praise.

So let us stand, and wave our palm branches and praise God.
(palm branches on front pew)
Hosanna! Alleluia!
Blessing be God!
Alleluia! Hosanna!
Salvation has come! 

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Third Sunday of Easter - Revelation Part 2

Many of you will know this song...
Or at least you've heard it somewhere.
By Pharrell Williams.

(play music)
(clap along)
(do a twirl)

As he says in the song, if you listen to the lyrics,
he is going to be happy no matter what news you give him,
because as
Pharrell says "happiness is the truth"
I would say, "joy is the truth"
God wants us to be joyful, in all circumstances.
God wants us to celebrate and rejoice in all that has been made and done for us.

Joy has nothing to do with our circumstances or our current mood.
Joy is something deep inside
which is part of how we see the world.
Happiness is rather fleeting
and usually has to do with what is going on in our lives
or something we have acquired.
Joy has to do with knowing who we are and whose we are
and celebrating being alive.

Thankfully joy can be learned
and it can be practiced.
It starts by simple celebration for all the gifts God has given us.
It starts by finding joy in who you are and whose you are.

Practicing celebrating God in our lives
is no easy thing.
It is more than simply saying, yay, God! every once in a while
when something good has happened.

Celebrating God encompasses giving thanks for God's being
for God's gifts, for God's love.

I bring up celebration and joy this week 
because as we move along in Revelation, 
we hear John tell of seeing 
a throng of the community of saints celebrating
singing in praise of God around the throne.
Not just the humans, the heavenly creatures praising God,
but John notes that he hears every creature in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, and in the sea,
singing in one voice
The birds, cats, dogs, mosquitoes, dolphins, earthworms! all joining in on the song.
I can't even imagine what an earthworm singing might sound like.

Interestingly, the sevenfold aspect of Revelations is so strong,
that it even goes into the song that the elders and creatures are singing.
"Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered
to receive power (1) and wealth (2) and wisdom (3) and might (4)
and honor (5) and glory (6) and blessing (7)!"
Sevenfold Celebration!

The vision John offered to the churches of celebration
would have been a good reminder to rejoice in the Lord.
Living in persecution and fear,
perhaps celebration would not have been their most natural way of being.
John shows them that those who have gone before stand in celebration of all that God has done.
Despite whatever has happened to them,
they rejoice in God.

John speaks of the elders, 
24 of them.
Twelve of the tribes of Israel,
twelve of the Apostles.
Both groups, the sons of Jacob,
and the twelve apostles,
faced and endured many pains and sorrows,
and yet, there they are
celebrating God. 

We need the reminder as well.
To celebrate what God has done in our lives.
The Episcopal tradition tries to make us remember to celebrate in our liturgy.
The leader of Eucharist is called the celebrant for a reason, 
the Sunday morning service is always a feast,
always a celebration of what God has done for us.
It is supposed to be a joyous occasion.

How often do we make it a somber and sad occasion,
even when we are singing the Sanctus,
the great hymn of praise from Revelation:
Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

Revelation is full of praise hymns.
Another reminder to the churches
to celebrate what God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
have done for us. 

Brene Brown points out in her book series multiple times
that one of the ways we protect ourselves from feelings
is by robbing ourselves of the joy inside of us
so that we don't have to feel the joy
because joy can be a vulnerable feeling
it makes us light-hearted and open
and because we learn from our human brokenness so easily that disappointment can follow
so we think it is easier and better to not even feel joy
because then we won't be disappointed.

However, robbing ourselves of the joy simply reinforces the disappointment and pessimism
which drags our hearts down and keeps us from feeling the good things in life.
We block out the good so that we don't have to feel the bad.
None of which is healthy.

God created us to be able to celebrate.
God wants us to find joy in our lives.
God gives us joy in our lives.
And God wants us to celebrate it.

There are many ways to celebrate what God has done for us.
We can like the hosts of heaven, fall down and worship God.
We can like Pharrell Williams, dance around in joy, using the bodies God has made for us,
We can spend time together with community, friends and family,
enjoying the community God has given to us.

Dancing around 
or praising God with song or joyful prayer
or in community.
Join in with all the heavenly hosts of angels, prophets, apostles, martyrs, saints,
sing praises to the amazing inspiring graceful and loving God we have!

Our God is an awesome God!

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Thursday, May 2, 2019

The Third Sunday of Easter

O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen (Third Sunday of Easter BCP 224)

During the season of Easter we are told many stories of Jesus appearing to his followers after his death and Resurrection. We hear of Jesus appearing in the upper room to the disciples. We hear of him appearing on the road to Emmaus, and this Sunday, the gospel passage will tell us the story of Jesus appearing on the beach of the Sea of Galilee for breakfast. In all of these stories, Jesus appears seemingly out of nowhere. A shock to all who experience him in that moment.

Many times in my own life, Jesus seemingly appears out of nowhere. Not in flesh and blood, but in presence or understanding. While I feel like I should be used to it by this point, I am still surprised and sometimes shocked at the moments Jesus turns up in. What is he doing here? Why did he decide to turn up now? These questions run through my head as I try to understand what God is doing in those moments.

Yet, the gospel stories show us an underlying message about Jesus in these stories. He doesn't appear out of nowhere. He doesn't suddenly materialize... poof! ... out of nowhere. Jesus is with us at all times, its just that sometimes we see him more clearly than others. Many times, like the disciples, we don't always recognize him at first. Notice where Jesus appears in your life this week. Does he appear out of nowhere or was he with you the whole time?

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Second Sunday of Easter - Revelation Part 1

"I saw Eternity the other night, 
Like a great ring of pure and endless light, 
All calm, as it was bright; 
And round beneath it, Time in hours, days, years, 
Driv’n by the spheres 
Like a vast shadow mov’d; in which the world 
And all her train were hurl’d. 
The doting lover in his quaintest strain 
Did there complain; 
Near him, his lute, his fancy, and his flights, 
Wit’s sour delights, 
With gloves, and knots, the silly snares of pleasure, 
Yet his dear treasure 
All scatter’d lay, while he his eyes did pour 
Upon a flow’r. 

The darksome statesman hung with weights and woe, 
Like a thick midnight-fog mov’d there so slow, 
He did not stay, nor go; 
Condemning thoughts (like sad eclipses) scowl 
Upon his soul, 
And clouds of crying witnesses without 
Pursued him with one shout. 
Yet digg’d the mole, and lest his ways be found, 
Work’d under ground, 
Where he did clutch his prey; but one did see 
That policy; 
Churches and altars fed him; perjuries 
Were gnats and flies; 
It rain’d about him blood and tears, but he 
Drank them as free. 

The fearful miser on a heap of rust 
Sate pining all his life there, did scarce trust 
His own hands with the dust, 
Yet would not place one piece above, but lives 
In fear of thieves; 
Thousands there were as frantic as himself, 
And hugg’d each one his pelf; 
The downright epicure plac’d heav’n in sense, 
And scorn’d pretence, 
While others, slipp’d into a wide excess, 
Said little less; 
The weaker sort slight, trivial wares enslave, 
Who think them brave; 
And poor despised Truth sate counting by 
Their victory. 

Yet some, who all this while did weep and sing, 
And sing, and weep, soar’d up into the ring; 
But most would use no wing. 
O fools (said I) thus to prefer dark night 
Before true light, 
To live in grots and caves, and hate the day 
Because it shews the way, 
The way, which from this dead and dark abode 
Leads up to God, 
A way where you might tread the sun, and be 
More bright than he. 
But as I did their madness so discuss 
One whisper’d thus, 
“This ring the Bridegroom did for none provide, 
But for his bride.”"
Henry Vaughan is one of my favorite 17th century Welsh poets, 
and this poem, The World,
marks the contrast between the world and eternity,
between what it is like in this realm,
and what God is calling us to. 

I first read this poem in high school
and what struck me at that time was
the witness to eternity. 

Henry Vaughan in some way had an experience of eternity
and he was not content merely to enjoy it
he wrote about it,
he was a witness to it
and a witness to the calling of God to all
not just some, as one of the characters in the poem suggests.

Poets have not only been the witnesses to eternity,
though many might come to mind.
In the scriptures, we have many prophets 
who have seen and heard much of heaven and eternity
and been willing to speak and share about it,
even when such sharing got them into serious trouble.

This is where we find John of Patmos,
a Palestinian Jewish Christian in the first century,
who fled from the region of Israel during the Jewish Revolts,
and ended up in exile on the island of Patmos because of the persecutions of Emperor Domitian.
He had a vision of eternity,
he had a message of hope for all people.

The Revelation to John,
the last book of the Bible today
details the vision and message John received
in the guise of letters to seven churches at the time
in Asia Minor, what is today, Turkey.

Revelation, as it is mostly known as,
is a very complicated, metaphorical, allegorical, visionary, eschatological apocalypse. 

And if that doesn't put you off,
St. Jerome, the well-known scholar and bishop, 
who translated the Scriptures from both Hebrew and Greek
into Latin to create the Vulgate, the standard Catholic Bible,
who was well-known for his scholarship and theology,
wrote in 394 in a letter (no. 53) to Paulinus, another bishop of the church at that time,
"The apocalypse of John has as many mysteries as words."

Which considering the book has 22 chapters, is a lot of words
and a lot of mysteries.
If this is how one of the greatest Christian biblical scholars feels about the book of Revelation,
we shouldn't be too concerned when we have a hard time making heads or tails of it.
The Easter season is a time of newness and hope
we hope for salvation, knowing that it has already been granted to us,
we celebrate, for fifty days!, the new life within and awaiting us.

This is why we hear from the book of Revelation during the season of Easter.
We hear from Acts, because it tells the story of the days after the resurrection 
and the events which happened between the resurrection and Pentecost. 
We hear from the gospel of John, 
because he includes the most post-resurrection stories in his version of events. 
(Reading from Mark during Easter would be difficult! No post resurrection stories!)
And we hear from Revelation, 
because beyond its fantastic allegories and confusing-to-us metaphors, 
it is at its base, a book about hope.

It is a vision of a new creation and a new God-centered reality.
It is a vision of salvation and forgiveness and love.

Naturally, I don't expect you all to agree with all of my interpretations of Revelation 
over the next seven weeks.
Interpretation is a complicated, tricky, and entangled business.
And not every question can be answered.

However, I do hope you will listen with me,
listen to the author of Revelation,
listen to God calling to us.

We are indeed witnesses to the acts of Jesus
in so, we are witnesses to eternity.
We behold the power of eternity
and the eternal being of God
And it is a story we need to share. 

We think things that last a long time are eternal,
Like the forty days of Lent,
but that is not the truth of the matter.
God who is and who was and who is to come
In the vernacular of the time, 
God says he is the Alpha and the Omega, 
the beginning and end of the alphabet. 
The beginning and end of all things.
Now that is eternity,
always something new but always the same.
Paradox and mystery.

However, God's mystery of eternity is part of how God conquers death.
Jesus gives himself up to death willingly and because he is innocent,
he breaks the bonds.
As a human, death would naturally claim him and even a sacrifice of innocence would not destroy death
Yet, as also divine, death does not naturally claim him
and he destroys the hold of death.

We are witnesses to this.

John reaches out to the seven churches in Asia Minor,
(you can read in your insert which churches he reached out to
and see where they are on the map)
to remind them of their witness
and to remind them of the hope of Jesus.
In God we can celebrate, 
in God is our salvation, our transformation, our hope.
We have seen eternity in the works of God,
"Like a great ring of pure and endless light"
let us share in John's witness
and share in telling the greatest story in the world.


Thursday, April 25, 2019

The Second Sunday of Easter

Almighty and everlasting God, who in the Paschal mystery established the new covenant of reconciliation: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ's Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Second Sunday of Easter BCP 224)

Jesus greets his disciples after the resurrection with peace and the Holy Spirit. He comes to stand among them, which would have felt very familiar to the disciples, yet after the Passion, death, and Resurrection, would have been very different! This time instead of teaching or parables, Jesus gives them the Holy Spirit. The text says, Jesus breathed on them the Holy Spirit.

Throughout the scriptures, there is a correlation between breath and the Spirit of God. God speaks out the Word, God breathes life into the first humans, God breathes new life into the dry bones in the valley with Ezekiel. God breathes and the Spirit goes forth. In the gospel passage for this coming Sunday from John, Jesus breathes out the Holy Spirit as well. Fully human and fully divine, Jesus offers them God's gift of new life.

The thing about breathing is there is a lack of control around it. You can see this anytime someone goes to blow out some candles, whether in church or on top of a birthday cake. We breathe out, and as much as we try to push our breath in one direction or another, once it is out of our mouths, it disperses, it goes to fill the room. All the people in the room with Jesus, the disciples, the hangers on, the women, the servants... all of them received the Holy Spirit when Jesus breathed out. In fact, as soon as the doors were opened, out that breath of Spirit went... the Holy Spirit loose in the world to bless and work in all people. Breathe in, receive the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Holy Week - The Triduum

Almighty God, who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ overcame death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life: Grant that we, who celebrate with joy the day of the Lord's resurrection, may be raised from the death of sin by your life-giving Spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (Easter Sunday III BCP 222)

The real focal point of Holy Week is the story that takes place over Thursday night, Friday, and Saturday night/Sunday morning. In the Christian tradition, the three days are called the Triduum, or the Paschal Triduum. The services of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil in the prayer book are functionally all part of the same service, without any dismissals or opening rites between the opening on Maundy Thursday and the dismissal at the end of the Easter Vigil. Many ask how what seems like four days can be called "three days," but the tradition is based on the Jewish tradition of days, which starts in the evening. Thus the three days starts with Thursday evening and goes through Sunday.

I hope you'll join us for the services this weekend. The story is one we walk through year after year, but every year is an opportunity for something new to stand out to us, some part of it to touch us in a way we hadn't experienced before. From someone who struggles with the emotional breadth and depth of the Passion story, it is good each year to try to engage and experience the emotions those first Jesus followers experienced, to understand the immensity of the newness and audacity of the Sunday morning sunrise surprise and the true gift of love God gives to us through Jesus' resurrection and salvation for the world. Come walk the way, follow Jesus. 

Thursday, April 11, 2019

The Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday

Almighty and everliving God, in your tender love for the human race you sent your Son our Savior Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature, and to suffer death upon the cross, giving us the example of his great humility: Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 219)

As the official title for this coming Sunday shows, this coming Sunday is a Sunday with multiple parts. We celebrate Palm Sunday with Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem and we listen to the story of Jesus' Passion in the dramatic reading of the Gospel story. Palm Sunday starts the Holy Week commemorations and celebrations, when we walk with Christ the way of the cross, towards death and ultimately resurrection.

Every year we come to this Sunday with mixed feelings. Lent always seems to go by quickly, even though forty days seems to go so slowly. We come to Palm Sunday excited about the coming story, sad because of its pain and humiliation, confused as to the whiplash of triumph and death, and hopeful as ever about the coming resurrection and new life.

By going through the story multiple times in the next week, we have time to go deeper into and understand more of what happens. By tracing Jesus' footsteps, we walk with the early disciples and learn with our hearts, minds, and souls what God has done for us in giving us Jesus. Come and listen, hear the story of God's great love for us.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Lent 3C Moses and the Burning Bush

Moses was not a man with a plan.
Estranged first from his family of origin,
then from his adopted family,
he accidentally found a new life 
sheep herding as part of his wife's family.
We see him today
(and I love this description)
"beyond the wilderness"
at Horeb, the mountain of God.

We tend to think of the wilderness as 
out there,
and here Moses is wandering around
beyond the wilderness.
He is way out there.

Now we tend to think of Moses as this great leader.
He was.
But before he was a great leader of the Israelites,
he was 
an adopted son who didn't speak so well,
who murdered a man,
and ran away from home.
Thus how he ended up way out there.
He was an outlaw in Egypt,
estranged from both his family of origin and his adopted family.

He was not a man with grand plans.
He was not anyone's hero.
He was herding sheep around, living day to day 
beyond the wilderness.

Yet, God comes to him,
out there in the back of beyond,
and gives him a job to do.
go back to Egypt.
I am going to set my people free. 

We have an example in Moses.
He didn't think it was possible
to go up against the Pharaoh
to free the Israelite slave population from Egypt.
Yet with God
it was possible.
It happened in a rather miraculous and stupendous way
And He is not the only example from the Bible.
Gideon, Samson, Deborah,
David, Solomon, Ezra, Nehemiah
The apostles, the disciples, the early Christians,
all of these people did the impossible
because of God in their lives.
Its so easy in our culture to give up on trying.
We make it easy to justify giving up.
Things are too hard and we are okay with not trying.
We don't think we can make things better or different,
And it can be very difficult,
so we justify our inertia.

We are not responsible for the big picture.
World Peace is not in our job description.
However, what is in our purview,
what we can do
is do one thing.
And then another.
And then another.
Step by step we can help out.
We will never see the work completely done.
We will never run out of things to do.
We do not live in a perfect world.
Thankfully though, there is always one more thing we can do.
Prayer, service, fasting, giving.
We can always do one more thing.
God gives us so many gifts and we are called to share them.

Moses received a vision of a part of the big picture.
He wasn't told everything at the beginning.
He was given one direction.
Go back to Egypt, talk to the people.
I am going to free my people from Pharaoh.
He wasn't told about having to cross the Red Sea.
He isn't told about the forty years in the desert to come.
He isn't told about the Promise Land.
He isn't told about the Temple in Jerusalem
Or the Messiah to come.
Or even the plagues or the Passover.
Those are all part of the Big Picture
Moses doesn't learn about.
He is given one step at a time.
Go to Egypt.
We are going to set those people free.
Even in the process of setting the people free
it is one step at a time.
Go. Talk to the people. Talk to Pharaoh.
Now, take a staff,
now show Pharaoh God's power,
now we are going to have the plagues.
The steps were laid out in time.

We are only ever given a part of the big picture from God.
Perhaps we know this can be a healthier or larger community.
But we cannot see what is going to happen in Franklin for the next hundred years.
We get
One part. One step.

There are so many examples of people
who didn't have it all planned out.
Who didn't have a grand plan for the next ten years,
but did one thing.
In all of the interviews with Rosa Parks,
she never suggested she was trying to change the world
or had a grand plan of sit ins on buses.
She simply knew the system was wrong and was tired of giving into it.
It was one thing that she did.
and she inspired others to do one thing,
Until there was a national movement.

It may not seem like a lot,
one prayer, one person helped, one life changed.
One baptism, one can of soup given away,
ten minutes with your child,
yet over time, those things add up.
They are all building blocks in the kingdom of God,
they all change the course of the world
and show God's love and salvation to a world desperately in need of it.

Especially in this region of the country,
we have felt betrayed,
we have felt denied,
we have felt the hardships
in the change in economy,
in the change in political systems,
in the systematic oppression of the struggling.
You don't have to go very far to see the signs on the houses,
to see the signs in the faces around us,
Franklin is in a region where we are not impressed with our standards of living right now.
Initiatives to fix up what is broken have failed over and over again,
because there is no one easy fix.
There are too many issues,
education, poverty, hunger, drug and alcohol,
hoarding, underemployment, cost of living,
cost of reliable housing.
There is a never-ending cycle of depression in this region
and it seems way too big for any of us to be able to do something about it.
However, we can.
God has seen worse.
God has worked miracles,
even in this time and place.
Because of one action,
because of people working together,
lives have been changed.
People have been able to get better jobs,
have been able to kick hunger,
have been able to get better education.
All because we did one thing
and then another
and then another.

In offering free food to our neighbors through the Food Pantry,
we have helped children with the nutrition they need
in order to pay attention in class and to become educated
to be able to get jobs
we have offered community to those who otherwise have none
we have offered prayers for those who have felt helpless
and given them the comfort of not being alone.
None of it looks big or grand on the outside,
yet each small act 
has changed this community.

Continuing on in the faith that God is working through us
with a much bigger picture than we could ever see
and being grateful to be a small part of it,
Jesus reaches out through us
giving gifts we don't even see.
True trust in God, true faith in God's grace
leaves no room for cynicism,
leaves no room for "woe is me".
Giving in to those ways of being is giving in to the workings of evil.
We are God's children,
and we are called to faith and trust in our magnificent Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.
Let us not give into the evil pressures of this world.
Every day, 
do one thing.
And then another.
And then another.
God will be with you in each and every single one.


Lent 4C The Prodigal Son

How many of you have heard of Joel Osteen?
He is a non-denominational Christian preacher in Texas. 
His church, Lakewood, has about 52,000 regular attendees.
They meet in what used to be the Houston Rockets basketball stadium.
Joel Osteen has written numerous books about living your best life.
However, there is a serious problem in his books and his theology.
His books are all about saving yourself to live a better life.

In our society, saving yourself is a big part of our jobs in our lives.
We have to figure out to make our lives have meaning,
we have to have our relationships and jobs and vocations all figured out
so that we can be productive and reliable members of society.
Especially in America, we have this understanding that we have to pull ourselves
out of the mud, out of our trouble, out of the mire
all on our own.
Sometimes we even get mad when we are saved by someone else
and not on our own.
I've seen this many times.
We want to save ourselves.
We want to be independent people who have our lives all under control.
However, we are not all in control.
For most of us, three months out of work or three months without social security payments,
and we would be hungry or homeless or in some other kind of desperate need.
Yet, we are told
Accepting help is a weakness, and weakness is not to be shown.
However, this is categorically not true.
This is an evil lie.
If you hear someone saying this to you, The devil is speaking at that moment.
We are not meant to save ourselves from our problems all on our own.
We are in community. 
We have a loving God.
We are not alone, and showing vulnerability and needing help
are great strengths.
We don't have to earn our salvation.
God gives us salvation as one of many loving gifts.

The story of the Prodigal son has a couple of pivotal moments.
Some stories only have one important moment.
However, this story has multiple moments which can be emphasized.
The first is the generosity of the father shown in the beginning of the passage.
He gives his younger son his inheritance early.
Not something easily done or necessarily good for the future of the family.
Yet, he gives generously of what he has to his son.
Then we have the pivotal moment when the son recognizes his failure
and brokenness.
He recognizes how far down he has fallen.
He knows that his father treats his servants better than he is being treated,
and perhaps because of his father's compassion, he can get a job for him instead
and bring himself back into his family's good graces.
He changes his life and goes home.
The third pivotal moment comes when the father sees the son far off
and runs to hug him.
Showing more love and forgiveness and grace
than most of us have ever experienced.
His father rejoices in his return,
despite all his mistakes,
and his father welcomes him back into the family without a moment's hesitation.
The fourth moment in this story
comes in the conversation between the father and the older son.
Angry about the ways both his brother and his father have behaved,
the older son feels betrayed and left out.
Yet, the father also lets him know that his love is for him.

I'm sure you've all heard sermons on all these different moments,
these different lesson points in this amazing story.
As a parable showing free will, brokenness, forgiveness, love, and absolute grace,
this story does summarize the overarching message of the whole Gospel rather well.

What I want to talk about this morning is the redemption in this story.
The salvation given out in great abundance.
The Prodigal son wants to earn his salvation. 
He wants to return and work for his father and earn his salvation. 
We totally understand the prodigal son's plan
work off the debt he has created, win back his father's affections,
it makes sense to us that way.
It makes sense to his brother too.
However, his father blows his plan completely out of the water.
His father showers him with unearned grace and love.
He has no way of earning his salvation, because it has already been given.
It is the greatest gift the prodigal son could ever receive.
And it doesn't make a lot of sense to the brothers.
Neither brother knows what to do with it.
They are both astounded.

Naturally, in the social sciences, there are questions about the effectiveness of this strategy.
Social workers and social scientists will tell you 
that programs like Joel Osteen's are more workable. 
We have seen that people are more willing to change their ways and their lives
if they have some responsibility for what they are doing.
Rehab programs, twelve step programs, give the responsibility directly to the patient.
You can get better, you can change your life,
only if you are willing to work towards it.
And even most self help books say you can change your life.
Which in some ways is true.
There are some things we do have agency over.
There are some parts of our lives we can change.
However, there are many things in our lives we have very little control over.
We cannot change the way our bodies are created.
We cannot change our chemical make up.
We cannot change our deep brokenness.
Only God can do that.
Inviting God into our lives opens the space for God to heal us.
We cannot earn God's love or grace
or God's change in our lives.
God is not a deal broker.
She doesn't sit around waiting for us to make a deal for our salvation.
God freely grants salvation.
Like the father of the prodigal son, 
God freely gives us more than we can imagine.
God is an awesome God!
Good to us even when we have not been God to ourselves or others.
God openly and lovingly saves us.

We try so hard to earn our own salvation.
We are told over and over again that the American dream is that
we pick up ourselves up by our bootstraps.
Self help books tell us how to save ourselves.
Unfortunately when you try this way, you'll most likely find,
We cannot rely on ourselves.
We are broken and inconsistent
No matter how hard we try to fix ourselves,
we cannot do it perfectly or alone.
We have to rely on God.
If you find yourself struggling to save yourself,
take a moment to pray.
Pray deeply and openly
for God to enter your life
to strip you of the desire to save ourself
to heal the hurts hiding inside of you
to help you along the path of true life.

We have to pray to God to help us.
We have so much deep inside of us that we cannot get rid of,
but God can manage that.

Advertisements, television, news
try to make us feel like we have to figure out how we are going to make it out alive
all on our own.
Of course, none of us make it out alive.
However if we live in Christ
we die in Christ.
And when we die in Christ,
we are risen with Christ.
We are saved solely through God in Christ.