Thursday, August 27, 2015

Finding a Direction

You may have noticed that I have stopped posting lectionary notes recently. Life has been a little crazy, and for a couple of weeks, I forgot. And then, I started thinking about what I wanted to do with this online space. 

I have lectionary notes on here for the whole three year cycle - you can find them for whatever text you need by searching the blog, using the archives, searching by tag. I will continue to post my sermons each week. 

But for now, other than that, I'm thinking things over. I'll keep you posted!

Sermon, "Summer Days: The Great Outdoors"

Sermon 8/23/15
Genesis 1:1-2:4

Summer Days: The Great Outdoors

            When I was in Sunday School in about 5th grade or so in Westernville, NY, my class didn’t have to be in any of the skits for the Children’s Sunday pageant. Instead, we each got to pick and read our favorite passage of scripture. I already had lots of favorites, and I hadn’t yet discovered my current long-lasting favorite – “I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly.” But out of my favorites, I decided to go with the creation story found in Genesis 1. I thought it was so beautiful. And I loved the part about how we’re created in God’s image. I’m not sure, looking back, whether my questions about creation came first, and then I chose to read this text in worship, or it is was the other way around. But near the same time, I asked my Sunday School teacher Mr. Waldo how it could be that God created the world in seven days if dinosaurs lived and became extinct all millions of years before people came around. I had learned the first thing at church and the second thing at school and both sounded right to me until I tried to put them together. Adults can respond in a lot ways, sometimes not so helpful ways, when kids are asking faith questions. But Mr. Waldo just said that God’s time might not be measured like our time, and he thought they could go together just fine – both what I had learned at church and what I had learned at school.
            I’ve never forgotten his response, and I always give thanks for it when I remember, because it really enabled me to always see the way we describe the world in faith language and the way we describe it in the language of science as things that go hand in hand – two ways of talking about the same thing. When I read Genesis 1, I’m not looking for the science of how the earth got here – and I don’t think that’s why the author was writing. The author wanted us to know some essential things about God, the world, and our relationship with God. And the author wanted to communicate in a particular literary style. It’s poetry. It’s a hymn. Genesis 1 is practically a piece of liturgy – it’s a call to worship. I still find it beautiful.
I read about a neat activity for Bible study that I’ve since used with study groups or prayer stations – and I will hopefully try here sometime with you. It’s called Bible Blackout. You take a passage of scripture and print it out on a sheet of paper. Then you read the text and circle all the words that stand out to you. And then you take a sharpie and black out all the words except the ones you’ve circled. And you’re left with a kind of poem that you’ve created out of the scripture passage. When I did this with my youth in Liverpool, I worked with the creation text that we read today, and this is the poem I came up with:  
“God created deep waters. And God saw good. And God saw good. And God saw good. And God saw good. And God saw good. And God saw good. So God created humankind in the image of God and blessed them. God saw everything, and indeed, it was very good. And God rested.”
Boiled down, that’s the message of creation I get from Genesis 1: God created. And God saw good, good, good. And humans are created in God’s image and blessed. In God’s image. When God created us, God made us reflections of God! Each one of us! A sacred gift. And God saw it all, and saw us all, and saw that it was very good indeed. Good enough that God felt ready to take a bit of rest. That’s a good story, this hymn of creation, that tells us a deep truth that we’re still struggling to accept. I think most of scripture answers a question, and figuring out the question can help you understand the text. I think the question, in this case is: are we inherently good or bad? People? The world? Good or bad? Theologians have actually debated this – created new religious movements because of their beliefs about this – for thousands of years. Are we inherently sinful and bad? Or, at our core, despite what we might become or how we behave, or how we choose that which is not what was intended for us, are we, in fact, good? The author of Genesis 1 has a pretty straightforward answer to that: good.
I don’t know if, in ancient times, people felt closest to God in places other than the great outdoors. I’m sure some people especially felt God’s presence in the Temple. Certainly, though, even the writings of the poets and prophets in the Bible – the Psalms, Job, Isaiah – it is clear that even though ancient peoples spent much, much more of their time outside than we do, still they were filled with awe and wonder and a sense of closeness to God as they observed the world around them. Still today we’re filled with wonder when we head outdoors, and for many, it is easier to find God in nature than elsewhere. Maybe outdoors, maybe in the midst of creation, it is a sliver easier to remember that God is Creator and that God chose to create us, and that God called us good. And yet, we’ve become such an indoor people, that I wonder how often we forget what would otherwise come so naturally to us.
I was walking one day a few years back at beautiful Green Lakes State Park and spotted two teenage girls sitting near the water, enjoying the view. And then one said to the other, “It looks just like a computer screen.” I remember going to see a set of caves one time while we were on family vacation in Lake George. I had found out about these caves doing a little research for our trip, and had convinced my mom and brother to go. It was taking a while to get there. A bit out of the way. My family was complaining a little bit about the drive. And just then we started passing signs put up on the road that said, one word per sign: “Can’t move the caves closer to the road.” I think, though, that we’ve come to have this foolish belief that we can control nature, and we’re surprised again and again when it is beyond us. We want nothing to keep us from the crazy rhythm of life we have established. And so we try to box ourselves in, try to build up walls, literal and figurative, between us and creation, sometimes preferring to view it from our window. We’re surprised when wild animals crash into our wild-free world. Frustrated when we can’t keep our life at a consistent 70 degrees no matter what season it is – God knows – seriously, God knows that I am thankful for air conditioning and heat. And we don’t even think about how crazy it is that we have access to any kind of food we want from any part of the globe at any time of the year.
            Sometimes, we forget about the hymn of creation. And we forget that God created us and called us good. In fact, another creation story is in our scriptures, right after the first, and it recounts, in Genesis 2 and 3, a story of Adam and Eve and a paradise, a garden where God walks. And then there’s this snake, this serpent. And then we see the beginning of the forgetting that God called us good, the beginning of the walls – between us and God, between us and creation, between us and each other. Walls and layers that we think protect us but in actuality hide us from God’s truth.
            David Erlander is a Lutheran pastor who’s written some of my favorite stories for adults, called Tales of Pointless People. This is the creation story from his perspective, adapted by Barbara Lundbald:
I am telling you that in the beginning, God created not one or two but a whole bunch of us. Lots of us. Because God knows that we love to play. So we did play all day and into the night. We splashed in the rivers. We rolled down the hillsides. We ran with the wind.
Until one day the snake came. At least they told us it was a snake. It might not have been a snake. It might have been someone in a three-piece suit with a cellular phone. Or it could have been a theologian with a very fat book. But what they told us was that it was a snake.
And the snake came to us, to all of us who were playing on the hillside and splashing in the water, rolling and playing and tumbling, and said, "This is foolish! You are wasting time. None of this makes any sense unless you learn to keep score."
We had no idea what the snake meant. But then the snake said something really interesting. The snake said "Whoever gets the most points will get this apple!" But we had no idea what points were. So then the snake said "I will teach you. . . ."
And so the snake did teach us how to keep points with our running and our jumping and our climbing. And so that whoever climbed highest got points, and whoever ran fastest got points, and whoever could roll down the hill fastest got points. Some things however, like frolicking, were too hard to score. So we gave them up all together.
Soon we were keeping score for everything we did. We chalked up the points for everywhere. We kept track so that we would know who had the most points because surely all of us wanted to get the apple.
Soon we were spending so much time keeping score that we didn’t have time to play.
Then God came into the garden. And God was wroth. God was very, very wroth. And God told us that we would have to leave the garden. Not only that — God told us that we were going to die.
Well, it doesn’t matter to me. It’s God who didn’t understand things! My cumulative lifetime score is now 12,263. By the time I die, it will probably be even more! We were like God’s slaves in the garden. We had to do everything that God told us to do. It was the snake who taught us to keep score, and now I’m teaching my children to keep score. I think they could reach 15,000. Maybe 20,000. Now we are free to make as many points as we can, to keep making points till the day we die and to teach all our children and our grandchildren how to make points. I’m really grateful to the snake. . . .
We know, friends, don’t we, that there is no end of ways in which we’re given the message that we are not, in fact, good enough. Not, in fact, good at all. Only by believing that we’re lacking, that we’re without, that we’re not enough can be convinced that we need to buy any number of things that promises is contains goodness itself. Enough points for us perhaps not to win the snake’s game, but at least to stop losing so badly.
Sometimes, I think our souls just long to get back outside. I remember travelling to an event in Dallas in high school, and the event was at a hotel right near the airport. And there was a tram that departed from inside the airport and arrived inside the hotel. And the whole event was inside. And there was no scheduled free time. And then I got back on the tram and went back to the airport and flew back home. I was never outside. And I felt boxed in, longing for the fresh air, the great outdoors. I think our souls long to be closer to a place where we remember that God created, and saw us, and saw good. I think we long to remember a time when there were no points, and no keeping score. Fortunately, the snake doesn’t get to tell the end of the story. Here’s how the rest of it goes:   
And then an ordinary fellow appeared from Nazareth - we said to ourselves, did any winner ever come from Nazareth? … And … do you know what he did? He went up to people like fishermen and whispered in their ear, "You don't need points!" And he sat down beside a Samaritan woman at the well and told her everything about her loser sort of life and said, "You don't need points either!" Then he sat down with Nicodemus, a teacher of the Law, and said to him, "You don't need points, Nicodemus." To Mary and Martha, to Joanna who was married to a very high official, to Susannah, Mary Magdalene, to Zacchaeus, to all of them he said, "You don't need points!" And those who gathered around him, listening to what he said about the kingdom of God being in the midst of them, soon looked at each other and him and said, "This kingdom is pointless!" Well, he didn't say a thing except to smile. They had pointless banquets where the guest lists were thrown away. They had pointless picnics on the hillside where everyone got plenty to eat, and there was still some left over. They even had a pointless parade into the city with children leading the way and people waving palms instead of swords. How pointless can you get!
But the snake, or the one in the three piece suit, or the theologian with the heavy book - I can't remember who it was, but it was someone with friends in high places - said, "This will never do. This will never do." And so shortly after that parade, they put him on trial. And they stopped him good as dead. And they sealed the place where they laid him to rest with a huge stone so that not even a whisper could escape that would ever say to anybody "You don't need points." And that was that. Except this morning-- This is strange. This morning some women came running to us, breathless, yet somehow full of breath. And they said to us, "You don't need points!" It was enough to make us think that that word had never died. But we said, "You've got to be crazy!" And we sent them away. And as they left, they were frolicking. I am not kidding - they were frolicking! Did you see where they went? (1)


Sermon, "Summer Days: Water Break," John 4:5-42

Sermon 8/16/15
John 4:5-42

Summer Days: Water Break

Over the years, I’ve tried several times to stop drinking Diet Coke. In high school, my senior year, I had a bout of kidney stones. The doctor wasn’t sure what caused them, but they suggested I try backing off the caffeine, and I would have agreed to anything they recommended to ensure no repeats of the kidney stones. So I just switched to caffeine free Diet Coke. But eventually, I started drinking it again – I had a become a vegetarian in my first year of college, and vegetarians are at less risk for kidney stones, so I felt like I could make the trade. And I’ve been pretty addicted to Diet Coke ever since. And several times, I’ve tried to give it up. One year, I gave up soda for Lent. I did really well all through Lent. I passed through the headache phase, that painful process where your body doesn’t respond well to missing out on caffeine. I still wanted Diet Coke when I saw it, but I managed to survive without it.
            Of course, without having soda, I needed to replace my soda with something else to keep hydrated. Soda actually isn’t a good hydrating beverage. Between the sodium and the caffeine, soda can actually make you thirstier than otherwise. So I drank a lot of water. I actually got my recommended eight cups of water a day. I learned to really enjoy water. And I found that the more I drank of it, the thirstier I was for it. It quenched my thirst, yes, but it also created in me a need for it – it satisfied my thirst, and so I actually thirsted even more for it. And anyway, when I am the most thirsty, and the most in true need of something to quench my thirst, I would never or rarely reach for a soda. After a hard workout, or being active on a hot day, it is cold, thirst-quenching water that I would reach for.
So why am I so reluctant to give up the soda? Why am I so reluctant to make a change that can only be for my benefit? Good for my health? There’s nothing beneficial about Diet Coke, except the taste, and if I could go long enough without it, even the taste is not as compelling as it once was. I wish I could say I kept my Diet-Coke free lifestyle after Easter came last year. But you know better. Recently, I’ve been trying again to kick the habit. I did really well for a couple weeks, and then had just one – just one Diet Coke. But of course, that led to just one more, and you guess the rest.
I’m guessing we all have our Diet Cokes. Not, I mean, that you all drink Diet Coke. But we all have these things that we do, even though we mean, we plan, we commit, we resolve not to anymore. We promise and swear that we’ll do differently, we’ll be different. We’re in good company in this. The apostle Paul writes about it in his letter to the church in Rome. He says, “7:15I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 19For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” Paul gets it. We keep doing the very things that bring us at best, momentary satisfaction, but in the end, leave us more empty than when we started. We’ve talked about dreams and we’ll keep talking about dreams and you’ll probably get sick of hearing about dreams at some point. But the crazy thing is that so many of the things we dream about are entirely possible. We know how to accomplish the things we dream about. We know what it would take to do what we dream about doing with all our heart. And we still just don’t do it. Why is that? Why don’t we do what we want to do, and instead do things that take us farther away from our hopes and dreams? Why do we do things that undermine our heart’s desire? I’m not just talking about messing up on our diet plans. I’m talking about ways that over and over again we make choices and decisions that result in us feeling empty inside instead of filled up, things that make us feel far from God instead of close, things that make our dreams seem impossible instead of reachable. Why would we do the very opposite of what we mean to do if it is within our power to do otherwise?
One of my favorite verses from Isaiah asks these very questions. Isaiah writes, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” Why? I think that we don’t believe we’re capable of meaningful transformation. Actually, that’s not quite right. I think, at the heart of it, we’re scared of meaningful transformation. We’re scared of new life, as much as we crave and long for it. I think that we don’t believe we’re worth the results of meaningful transformation. If we sought after deep and meaningful lives for ourselves, instead of the unsatisfying substitutes we let become our existence – I think it would mean that we care for ourselves enough, love ourselves enough to consider ourselves worth the struggle. Worth the hard work. Worth the time pursuing your dreams takes that quick, unsatisfying fixes do not. And so, scared of what change might bring, what change would mean, and not thinking we’re worth it, we choose the diet coke over the water again and again.
That’s the woman – a woman just like most of us in fact – that I think Jesus meets at the well in our text today. The gospel of John is the only gospel where we find this passage, and it marks the longest single conversation Jesus has with an individual in the scriptures. Jesus is travelling from place to place and his destination causes him to travel through a Samaritan city. The Jews and the Samaritans didn’t get along. Remember, a couple of weeks ago I told you that in fact they were enemies, Jews and Samaritans. They had common religious ancestry, but over the centuries they had divided and come to have deeply different religious beliefs.
But, Jesus travels through this Samaritan town, and stops at a well. A Samaritan woman, unnamed like so many women in the Bible, comes to the well, and Jesus asks her to draw him some water to drink. She’s surprised. She’s a woman and a Samaritan, two huge reasons for Jesus not to speak to her. But Jesus tells her, “if you knew the gift of God, and who it is [that is talking to you], you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman is naturally confused by Jesus’ strange talk. How can he get water without a bucket, she wonders? Jacob, their revered forefather got water from a well with the help of God. Can this man Jesus do that? Jesus answers, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman responds, even if not understanding fully, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” Jesus goes on to tell the woman all about herself, her history. She’s been reaching for Diet Coke over and over again. She’s had relationships with many men. The woman asks if Jesus is a prophet. They debate a bit, about their different religious views. But Jesus tells her, “the hour is coming, and is now here, when the truth worshipers will worship God in spirit and truth, for God seeks such as these to worship. God is spirit, and those who worship God must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman says she knows that the Messiah is coming. Jesus says he is the Messiah.
But that’s not the end of our passage. The disciples show up, surprised at Jesus’ conversation partner, but wise enough apparently to keep their thoughts to themselves. Jesus says something to them about food to eat, and they, like the woman, are confused by his talk. But Jesus says, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to proclaim his work.” He talks about the Samaritans being ready for the harvest, ready to receive the good news. Indeed, the passage closes with the woman bringing others to meet Jesus, who believe that he is the savior because of her witness.
I want to share with you a poem, a monologue really, by Chris Kinsley and Drew Francis that gives us the voice of the woman at the well. Listen to her story:
I am a woman of no distinction
of little importance.
I am a women of no reputation
save that which is bad.
You whisper as I pass by and cast judgmental glances,
Though you don’t really take the time to look at me,
Or even get to know me.
For to be known is to be loved,
And to be loved is to be known.
Otherwise what’s the point in doing
either one of them in the first place?
I want someone to look at my face
And not just see two eyes, a nose,
a mouth and two ears;
But to see all that I am, and could be
all my hopes, loves and fears.
But that’s too much to hope for,
to wish for,
or pray for
So I don’t, not anymore.
Now I keep to myself
And by that I mean the pain
that keeps me in my own private jail
The pain that’s brought me here
at midday to this well.
To ask for a drink is no big request
but to ask it of me?
A woman unclean, ashamed,
Used and abused
An outcast, a failure
a disappointment, a sinner.
No drink passing from these hands
to your lips could ever be refreshing
Only condemning, as I’m sure you condemn me now
But you don’t.
You’re a man of no distinction;
Though of the utmost importance.
A man with little reputation, at least so far.
You whisper and tell me to my face
what all those glances have been about, and
You take the time to really look at me.
But don’t need to get to know me.
For to be known is to be loved and
To be loved is to be known.
And you know me.
You actually know me;
all of me and everything about me.
Every thought inside and hair on top of my head;
Every hurt stored up, every hope, every dread.
My past and my future, all I am and could be.
You tell me everything,
you tell me about me!
And that which is spoken by another
would bring hate and condemnation.
Coming from you brings love, grace,
mercy, hope and salvation.
I’ve heard of one to come
who could save a wretch like me
And here in my presence, you say
I AM He.
To be known is to be loved;
And to be loved is to be known.
And I just met you.
But I love you.
I don’t know you,
but I want to get to.
Let me run back to town
this is way to much for just me.
There are others: brothers,
sisters, lovers, haters.
The good and the bad, sinners and saints
who should hear what you’ve told me;
who should see what you’ve shown me;
who should taste what you gave me;
who should feel how you forgave me.
For to be known is to be loved;
And to be loved is to be known.
And they all need this, too.
We all do
Need it for our own.

For to be known is to be loved and To be loved is to be known. And you know me. You actually know me; all of me and everything about me … And that which is spoken by another would bring hate and condemnation. Coming from you brings love, grace, mercy, hope and salvation. Friends, we’ve got Diet Coke. And we’ve got Living Water. The choice seems so simple. It is simple, when we remember that God knows us and loves us. Knows all about us and loves us. And still wants to give us Living Water. God knows us and loves us and think we’re worth a deeply satisfying life abundant. God knows us and loves us and says we’re worth it. May we come to know, to believe what God knows already, and may we drink deeply of the living water springing up from the heart of God. Amen.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Sermon, "Summer Days: Gone Fishin'," John 21:1-19

Sermon 8/9/15
John 21:1-19

Summer Days: Gone Fishin’

            This summer, we’ve been playing around with some of the fun summer themes we can draw from the scriptures: Eutychus and sleep, a picnic and the feeding of the 5000, (and a potluck of our own, of course,) a road trip with the Good Samaritan. Today, we’re going fishing with Jesus and the disciples. But I hope in the midst of these summer days, you’re thinking about our dreams at Apple Valley, God’s dreams for Apple Valley. I hope you notice that it’s been in the bulletin each week – a reminder of the dreams will be thinking about in more focus in the year ahead – an Apple Valley that is fruitful, and prayerful, and invitational, and missional.
            This summer I’ve been working with another church in our conference helping them put together a strategic plan for their outreach ministry. We’re using a process called Asset Based Community Development – a way of planning for the future that starts by focusing on what you have, instead of on what you don’t have. It’s really easy in the life of the church to get caught up in what you don’t have. We don’t have enough money, or people, or a new enough building, or good enough facilities, or enough children, or enough volunteers, or enough activities, and so on. And pretty soon, despite our proclaiming that we have a generous God, we feel like we don’t have enough to do anything with at all, and we’re in big trouble. But in Asset Based Community Development, you start out by thinking very carefully about everything you do have – the people you have and their gifts. The space you do have. The finances you do have. The connections you have to other organizations and institutions. And pretty soon, you’ve got a huge list of things that are tools for ministry. And suddenly it begins to seem pretty silly to suggest that there is anything that, with God’s help, you can’t accomplish. It’s kind of like learning to see 5000 people and see them and the fives loaves and two fish and see such abundance, instead of panic-inducing scarcity.
            What do you see, when you look at the assets we have here? Does it feel like we don’t have enough? Or like we have so much that there’re possibilities everywhere you look? When it comes to dreaming with God, I think we get from dreams to realities when we see how much we have already been given to do the work that God calls us to.
            Today, as I said, we’re going fishing with Jesus. This is one of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. Remember, way back in the season of Easter we spent one Sunday looking at all of these appearances together – times that Jesus was present with the disciples after his resurrection, before he returned to God, in this forty-day span of time. This is one of my favorite post-resurrection scenes. There’s a small group of disciples gathered by the Sea of Tiberias, another name for the Sea of Galilee. They decide to go fishing, but they catch nothing. But then, at daybreak, Jesus stands on the beach. The group doesn’t recognize him. Why? We can’t be sure, but several of the post-resurrection stories suggest that Jesus is hard to recognize – at first. Jesus tells them to cast their nets to the other side of the boat, since they haven’t been catching fish. They don’t question him, but do as he says. And suddenly, there are so many fish that they can hardly haul them in. One of the disciples recognizes Jesus just from this – the abundance that suddenly comes where they thought they had nothing – it’s a sign that Jesus is in their midst. We read that Peter, upon realizing that it is Jesus, puts on his clothes, and jumps into the water to see him. How many of you have seen Forest Gump? I can’t help put but picture that scene in the movie where Lieutenant Dan comes to work on Forest’s shrimping boat, and Forest is so excited, so overwhelmed to have him there, that he jumps off his moving boat and into the water to get to him just that few seconds faster. That’s how Peter feels and acts when he realizes he’s in the presence of Jesus. Eventually, the rest of the disciples catch up too with the fish, and they come ashore.
            They find Jesus waiting with a fire and fish and bread. He tells them to bring some of the fish they just caught. John, the gospel writer, tell us that there were 153 fish. For thousands of years, scholars have tried to figure out the significance of this number, to no avail. My personal take is that it is pretty simple – 153 is a lot of fish! Most people I know who fish know exactly how many they got. And the disciples: they got a lot of fish. John tells us that the net was not torn, despite the large haul. And Jesus invites them to have breakfast. They don’t ask “who are you?” Because they know now. It’s the Lord. It’s Jesus.
            After breakfast, Jesus and Peter talk. Jesus asks him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” And Peter answers affirmatively. “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” This happens three times in a row. And with each exchange, Jesus responds, “Feed my lambs,” then, “Tend my sheep,” then, “Feed my sheep.” A few verses  beyond our text for today, the gospel concludes, with John saying that the world itself could not contain the full account of all the things that Jesus said and did. He’s offered, it seems, what is most significant in his mind, what we most need to know.
            I’m wondering if some things about this passage seem familiar to you, seem similar to you to other stories that we find in the gospels. I notice a lot of things in this scene that we’ve seen before. There’s Jesus and the disciples at the seaside, of course. There’s the disciples not recognizing Jesus until he does something special, so Jesus-like that they know it’s him. There’s Jesus, the carpenter, telling the group of fishermen what to do. There’s these fishermen who don’t catch any fish at first, and then catch so many it is beyond what they expected. That’s happened before around Jesus. There’s Jesus and fish and bread, again, like before. There’s Peter, having three opportunities to commit or deny his connection to Jesus – only this time he responds affirmatively, where once he denied even knowing Jesus. This whole encounter is echoes of former scenes from the gospel.
            I don’t think it’s accidental, all these parallels. I think what we’re seeing is an intentional before and after. Think of all the things that are marketed with dramatic before and after pictures. This is your life without this essential product, and this is your life afterwards. What’s changed in the gospels from before to after? Jesus has been crucified and resurrected! Death has been conquered in life. And in this, in the resurrection, the disciples have the hope, the strength, the trust they need to start seeing assets instead of needs. From here on out, not without bumps and challenges, but from here on out what the disciples will do in the world is astonishing, as they go out into the world in the name of Jesus. Before and after, the results are convincing. Aren’t they?
            Friends, we are already resurrection people. But sometimes I think we’re still living our faith as people in the “before” frame, instead of the “after” frame. Like we’re waiting for something that will make our dreams real possibilities. Instead, I think God is waiting on us! God is waiting for us to recognize Jesus, calling to us. Waiting for us to put our net out into different waters, if they keep coming up empty where we are. Waiting for us to sit down to breakfast. Waiting for us to say “Yes” where before we said “no.” God is waiting for us to get to the after, so that we can live into God’s dreams.
            We’ve been blessed to have Laurel here today talking to us about imagining a world with no malaria. That’s no small goal. But people like Laurel and others who have been working diligently on this campaign have not let the magnitude of malaria stop them from acting, with such powerful results. Laurel is the kind of person that throws herself into whatever she’s doing with such heart, and I have admired the way she’s believed that an annual conference that often sees itself as without can do amazing things and commit themselves to a cause, a passion they didn’t even know they had until Laurel got to them! I think about this little congregation, and Liz challenging us to support our young people in going to camp – a challenge we will return to in September to tally our offerings – and beyond my wildest expectations we raised more money in a single special offering than we often do in several months at a time of mission offerings. I think about my garden, and plants that will take up as much room as I can give them. I’ve been surprised by some plants that will just get bigger and bigger and bigger if they can, bigger than I was expecting. Sure, sometimes space considerations require containers and small plots. But what does it tell us that our garden will grow into as big a space as we’re willing to give it? 
            Are we living as before people, or after people? Are we people with assets, or just needs and deficiencies? How much space are we willing to give to God’s dreams? We are blessed to serve at God who is a God of second chances. A God who will remind us with another feast about being the body of Christ in the world. A God who believes in trying and trying again, until we really see the difference that Jesus makes in our lives. God is dreaming for us, with us. I want you to help me not make the dreams we’ve been talking about just nice words for the bottom of our bulletin. I want us to live in the after. I want us to know, to believe, to trust, to act as people who know that this congregation can do all that God has called it to do, because our nets are full to overflowing, and our hearts are full of love, and God is calling our names. Thanks be to God. Amen.  

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Sermon, "Summer Days: Road Trip," Luke 10:25-37

Sermon 8/2/15
Luke 10:25-37

Summer Days: Road Trip

            Generally speaking, I love to drive. Lately, my commutes to Rochester have tested the boundaries of my love. But it’s more the length of my work day that’s the challenge, and not really the driving itself. I inherited a love from my grandfather of just going for a drive in the area to no place in particular – just taking a random turn and seeing where the road leads. I didn’t always appreciate these drives as much as a child, finding them boring, but my grandfather loved to look for dear, or pussy willows, or the highest, windiest road. But eventually, I came to enjoy this too. When I have the time – and the gas to spare – I like to take a drive on a sunny day over some country roads. This area is pretty good for drives like that, isn’t it? Seeing where the road might take you? Driving down a road that you’ve never been on before?
            Of course, sometimes going on roads we’ve never been on before turns things from a nice drive to being lost really fast. Sky Lake, the conference camp of ours where I was chaplain at Music Camp a couple of weeks ago, is a little bit out of the way, and when I first started going there, I would frequently take a wrong turn. A couple of those roads, late at night, make you feel like you’ve just entered the plot of a horror flick. There are places, roads we might travel where our senses tell us: unsafe. Sections of town, neighborhoods, places where you just don’t want to go.
That’s the kind of road we encounter in our text today: the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. As the text says, the road, about 15 miles long, literally went down, a hilly, dangerous descent into Jericho. It was a road where many people experienced violence and crime – being robbed on the road to Jericho wouldn’t have been uncommon. The road to Jericho wasn’t unlike the places today where we know to be on high alert if we have to travel there. Our passage is one of the most well-known stories in the Bible, which I think always puts us in danger of not being able to learn anything from it, because we come convinced we already know what it is all about. We’ll try hard today to work against that! It’s a parable – and remember, Jesus usually tells parables to tell us about what the kingdom of God is like – what things are like when God’s reign gets to take full hold – it’s a parable Jesus tells in response to a question from a lawyer. Lawyers were experts in the law of Moses – religious scholars who knew the facts of the law inside and out. He asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” As he often does, Jesus turns the question back to the man: “You tell me! What does the law say?” The lawyer quotes the laws that are the center of the Hebrew scriptures: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And Jesus says, “Yep, you’ve got it. Go do just that, and you’ll really live.” But the lawyer wants to “justify himself,” we read. He wants an answer from Jesus he can debate, or he wants to get affirmation on his behavior, perhaps permission of sorts from Jesus to interpret the law in whatever way he’s been applying it in his life. “And who is my neighbor asks the man?” Who exactly am I supposed to love?  
            Jesus responds by telling the story of a man who was robbed and left for dead on the roadside on the way to Jericho. A priest and Levite pass by, but they don’t stop. The law would have discouraged them from doing so, actually. They’d become ritually unclean, and unable, temporarily, to perform their religious duties. But a third man comes by – a Samaritan. Now, Jesus’s hearers would have been expecting him to say that the third person was an Israelite. Because “priests, Levites, and Israelites” were the three groups in society. (1) It would be like saying “Larry, Curly, and” – and you all know the next thing is Moe! But instead, Jesus says the third man is a Samaritan. Samaritans were the enemies of the Jews. They had a common heritage, but over the centuries, came to disagree on matters of culture and religion in deep ways. Jesus says the third person to come along is someone that the crowds would have identified not just as an outsider, but as someone they actively disliked. A Samaritan. And Jesus tells us that when the Samaritan saw the man, he was “moved with pity.” And that phrase, moved with pity, is from a Greek word that might sound familiar in its strangeness if you were here last week: It’s splagnizomai. Compassion. His intestines twisted in knots in deep concern for what he saw. As I mentioned last week, this rare word is usually applied to Jesus, and how he looks at the crowds. And here, a Samaritan, an enemy, is looking at a Jewish man with gut-twisting compassion. He treats and bandages the man’s wounds, brings him to an inn, cares for him, pays all his expenses, and plans to come back and check on him again later. “Which of these,” Jesus asks, “do you think was a neighbor to the man who was robbed?” And the lawyer answers - not even saying Samaritan – “the one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus says simply, “Go, and do likewise.”
            Are we merciful people? The dictionary defines mercy as “compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one's power to punish or harm.” Mercy is when we choose compassion and forgiveness over punishment or harm. Are we merciful? Are we good neighbors? To our enemies? Who are our enemies, anyway? My first appointment as a pastor was to Oneida. Like Apple Valley, that church, too, was near a Native Reservation. I’m sure many of you are familiar with Turning Stone, and SavOn gas stations, and many of the businesses of the Oneida Nation. Because of the casino, and because of the ongoing land claim issues related to the Oneida Nation, there was significant tension between the Oneidas and the neighboring communities. It was taboo, to some, to even be seen buying gas at a SavOn. One of my dear parishioners there said to me once that she would never “hurt her neighbor” by buying gas at a Nation-owned gas station. I was too timid in those first years to say “and who is your neighbor?”  
            Immigrants to this country – documented and undocumented – are they our neighbors? People of others faiths – Muslim men and women – are they our neighbors? Or atheists? Are they our neighbors? The person you can’t believe is crazy enough to vote Republican – or Democrat – are they our neighbors? Or what about prisoners? Addicts? Are they our neighbors? Homeless people? Teen moms? What about the leaders of North Korea? Or ISIS? Or white men who gun down black people in churches? Or who shoot school children? Are they our neighbors? Are we neighbors to them? I can keep going. Jesus just doesn’t answer the lawyer’s question. He cuts to the chase, to the quick, and says: perhaps your worst enemy is, in fact, your neighbor. What does it mean, friends, to be a neighbor? Jesus says the one who is merciful is the neighbor, even if we have called them enemy. Are we good neighbors?
            Remember, back when we were talking about forgiveness, and Simon Peter asked Jesus how many times we should forgive someone who wrongs us? Boldly, Peter had said, “Seven times?” I think expecting Jesus to be impressed with his mercy. But instead, Jesus said seventy-seven times, pushing Peter to understand that as long as he was concerned with the rules of how little he could do and still get away with it, he was missing the point entirely. This passage of the Good Samaritan is similar, as are so many of the passages where someone asks Jesus a question. Again and again we come before God asking, is this enough? Is this enough? Have we done enough? And we doubly miss this point! Because, first of all, what we really seem to be asking, implied in our question, in the lawyer’s question is: Is this enough for you to still love me God? Is this enough for me to get the reward? Is this enough for me to still get into heaven? I think these questions that we ask - and we all do ask them – break God’s heart, because it means we don’t understand that God loves us, already, completely, unchangingly, freely. So our question is wrong because we don’t need to do anything to earn God’s love. But our question is also wrong because if we want to know what’s the minimum God wants from us, then the answer is also everything. God requires nothing to give us the free gift of love. But God asks us for everything as we seek to respond in discipleship. How much mercy does God want you to show others? Do you honestly think God is going to reach a point and say: enough! You’ve been too forgiving! You’ve loved enough! You’ve reached your quota of neighbors! It sounds pretty unlikely, doesn’t it? How much does God demand in exchange for unconditional love? Not a thing. How much of your heart does God want? Every last nook and cranny.
            If we’re wondering about the minimum we can do, we’re saying our heart isn’t in it. We’re not moved with pity, twisted up with compassion, if we are asking what’s the minimum that will suffice. Maybe there are situations in life when the minimum is ok – when our heart is truly not in something, and doesn’t need to be, when something doesn’t need our energy. But minimum requirements are for things you don’t care about. Minimum requirements never work for our relationships with other people, and it never works in our relationship with God. For anything that matters to us, we can’t ask the question of “how little can I do and still be ok” and be even in the right ballpark. What might happen to our world, our communities, our own lives and hearts if we reordered everything to put merciful, compassionate, loving action for one another at the center of how we live? Do we want eternal life? Jesus says living a life of compassion is real life right now.
One of my personal pet peeves is when someone says “that’s between me and God.” Americans tend to prize individuality and privacy, and our heritage of religious freedom has also resulted in religious isolation – we don’t like to talk to others about what we believe or why, and we tend not to ask others about their beliefs. And so when it comes to many questions of faith – how much we give, how we pray, what sins we have to confess, what we believe about controversial issues – we tend to plead, “that’s between me and God.” I would argue that there’s no such thing. No such thing as “just between me and God.” Jesus and the lawyer alike both knew that the greatest commandments were love of God and love of one another. One without the other isn’t complete. It’s never just me and God – it’s always me and God and my neighbor. This was a key argument of John Wesley’s, the founder of the Methodist movement. Hew wrote: “The gospel of Christ knows of no religion, but social; no holiness but social holiness . . . This commandment have we from Christ, that [the one] who loves God, love [neighbor] also." (2) It is never just between us and God. It is what – and who – lies between God and us that tells us about our faith. What lies between you and God? Jesus’ parable tells us that what lies between God and us is the Jericho Road, and who we find there. The lawyer asked “who is my neighbor?” And Jesus prompted him to answer his own question: “The one who showed mercy.” Friends, let us go and do likewise. Amen.

(1) Scholar Amy-Jill Levine transformed my understanding of this text at the Festival of Homiletics one year with this imagery.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Sermon, "Summer Days: Picnic," Mark 6:30-44

Sermon 7/26/15
Mark 6:30-44

Summer Days: Picnic

            Maybe you’ve had an experience like this: you are exhausted. It has been a long week at work. Some things have gone wrong. And all week, you’ll been looking forward to a quiet Saturday at home, where you can sleep in and spend down time alone or maybe with your family or closest friends. But you’re just going to hang out. No agenda. No schedule. No plans. And then, there’s a knock at the door. Or the phone rings. And suddenly, that time for rest and relaxation has vanished. And it’s not even that whoever interrupted your time is not a friend, a person you enjoy. It’s just that you were so exhausted, and you so needed a break. Has this ever happened to you?  
            That’s what I imagine when I hear the opening of our text today from the gospel of Mark. The apostles have gathered around Jesus, and they tell him all they had done and taught. See, he had sent them out to preach and teach and heal on their own. He’d told them to pack lightly, stay where they were welcomed, and shake off the dust where they weren’t. They’d been sharing the good news about the kingdom of God. And they’d returned, and wanted to tell Jesus about everything they’d experienced. Not only that, but Jesus’s cousin, John the Baptist, had just been executed by Herod, beheaded. It is in the context of these events that Jesus says, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile.” Mark tells us that it was so crazy in their lives that they didn’t even have time for a meal. They need this time away. So they get in a boat and head out to a place they think will be deserted. But the crowds are paying attention, and realize where Jesus and the disciples are headed, and hurry on foot to greet them, so that by the time the boat arrives, Jesus and the twelve are greeted by a crowd of people in their supposed-to-be-deserted place. You and I might respond to this in any number of ways. I can imagine my groaning, my shoulders slumping, and the feeling of being overwhelmed, spent.
            Jesus, we read, has compassion for them, because they’re like sheep without a shepherd, and he immediately starts to teach them many things. That word, compassion, is my favorite Greek word. The Greek is splachnizomai, and it means something to the effect of your guts are tied up in knots with the level of concern you have. You are physically moved with emotion for the person you’re considering. In the gospels, this word is used frequently to describe how Jesus feels about the crowds. In fact, this words is used more times about Jesus than in others instances combined. When Jesus sees people, his guts twist with the deepness of his concern. His response, despite his clear need for some rest and renewal, bowls me over. I’m not convinced I have the same response all the time!
            Nonetheless, Jesus teaches late into the evening. The hour is late. And the disciples, who, you’ll note, have not been described as looking at the crowds with compassion, come to Jesus and tell him to send the crowds home to get some dinner. They clearly are not feeling the twisted guts thing. I think of classic movies that are about life in high school, and inevitably, there’s some scene in the cafeteria where the new kid, or the nerdy kid, or the kid who people have suddenly decided to hate enters the cafeteria and tries to find a place to sit down. And one by one, you see them rejected by different groups of people. Maybe there’s one table of misfits that will let them sit down. Maybe eventually they make their way to the cool kids’ table. But the message is pretty clear: in school, which table you sit at, where you eat, is extremely important. Was your school like this? Maybe my high school wasn’t quite so dramatic. But still, in junior high and high school, everyone mostly had a table that they always sat at. There was very little movement between the tables. People generally sat with the same set of people every single day.
            See, for better or worse, we learn early on in life that who you eat with is important. Who you eat with is an intimate act – it suggests relationship, affinity, similarity between you and your table companions. I’ve mentioned before I think that one of the things people get so upset about in the gospels is who Jesus chooses to eat with. The religious folks are always complaining and grumbling that Jesus eats with sinners and low-lifes! And if he eats with them – well, maybe that means Jesus has something in common with them. Maybe he likes those people. Maybe he even loves them. And the religious leaders, in all their dignified ways, essentially react like kids in movies about high school: “Ew, gross!”
            I think we’ve learned to expect this reaction in the gospels from some of the religious elite. They usually seem to be arguing with Jesus about things like this: who is in, and who is out, and according to what set of rules – theirs, or God’s. But I don’t think we expect the same reaction from the disciples, Jesus’ inner circle, his closest followers. Still, where Jesus reacts with compassion, the disciples can’t wait to be back in their own group. It’s one thing to preach and teach people. But when they want to sit down to eat, they want to be back in their own group.
            Jesus isn’t having it though. He says to them, “you give them something to eat.” The disciples respond, “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread to get them food?” Notice, the text does not say that they don’t have 200 denarii available among them. For perspective, later in the gospels, the costly perfume Mary of Bethany uses on Jesus is valued at 300 denarii. Both are high sums, to be sure. But we get the idea it isn’t really the cost that’s bothering the disciples. It’s the effort. They want everyone to just go home now. They want to be on their own. They’ve dealt with the crowds like Jesus wanted, but dinner time? That’s going to be just the group of them, right? Jesus and the 12 cool kids?
            Instead, Jesus orders them to gather what food the crowd has. They come up with five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus gets everyone to sit down, and he takes the food, blesses it, and passes it out. And we read, “all ate and were filled” and there were twelve baskets of food leftover. This story of the feeding of the 5000 is generally counted as one of the miracles of Jesus. Scholars debate: Did Jesus multiply the food? Did he just inspire people to share what they had with them? What’s the significance of the event? I think there’s a lot of interesting things we could discuss here, but maybe first, we need to understand what we think about miracles. Miracles are events that cause wonderment. Surprising events that are welcome and not easy to explain, considered the work of God. To learn more, we turn to a scholarly source: E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web.
If you aren’t familiar with the book, or have forgotten it, Charlotte’s Web is about a pig named Wilbur who is the runt of his litter. He is saved from death by the pleadings of a young girl, Fern, who raises him herself. When he gets too big, he goes to live on a farm, where he again faces death – they want to eat Wilbur, if you can imagine such a crazy thing! He is saved by the handiwork of a spider named Charlotte, who weaves words about Wilbur into her web. Fern’s mother is very concerned about everything, and goes to see the doctor, which is where our excerpt begins: 
“It’s about Fern,” [Mrs. Arable] explained. “Fern spends entirely too much time in the Zuckermans’ barn. It doesn’t seem normal. She sits on a milk stool in a corner of the barn cellar, near the pigpen, and watches animals, hour after hour. She just sits and listens.” Dr. Dorian leaned back and closed his eyes. “How enchanting!” he said. “It must be real nice and quiet down there. Homer has some sheep, hasn’t he?” “Yes,” said Mrs. Arable. “But it all started with that pig we let Fern raise on a bottle. She calls him Wilbur. Homer bought the pig, and ever since it left our place, Fern has been going to her uncle’s to be near it.” “I’ve been hearing things about that pig,” said Dr. Dorian, opening his eyes. “They say he’s quite a pig.” “Have you heard about the words that appeared in the spider’s web?” asked Mrs. Arable nervously. “Yes,” replied the doctor. “Well, do you understand it?” asked Mrs. Arable. “Understand what?” "Do you understand how there could be any writing in a spider's web?" Oh, no," said Dr. Dorian. "I don't understand it. But for that matter I don't understand how a spider learned to spin a web in the first place. When the words appeared, everyone said they were a miracle. But nobody pointed out that the web itself is a miracle." “What’s miraculous about a spider’s web?” said Mrs. Arable. “I don’t see why you say a web is a miracle – it’s just a web.” “Ever try to spin one?” asked Dr. Dorian. Mrs. Arable shifted uneasily in her chair. “No,” she replied. “But I can crochet a doily and a can knit a sock.” “Sure,” said the doctor. “But somebody taught you, didn’t they?” “My mother taught me.” “Well, who taught a spider? A young spider knows how to spin a web without any instructions from anybody. Don’t you regard that as a miracle?” “I suppose so,” said Mrs. Arable. Still, I don’t understand how those words got into the web. I don’t understand it, and I don’t like what I can’t understand.” “None of us do," said Dr. Dorian, sighing. "I'm a doctor. Doctors are supposed to understand everything. But I don't understand everything, and I don't intend to let it worry me.”
Maybe Jesus helping everyone to get fed isn’t the miracle in this story. Or at least, the specific nature of how it happens isn’t the part we need to worry so much about understanding. After all, today I mostly find it amazing that in a world that has more than enough food, somehow people are still going hungry. If what we describe is nothing more mysterious than people being moved by Jesus to share that they actually had more food than they first wanted to admit to share with others, than that’s no small welcome act of wonder in and of itself. If we could be moved by Jesus to start seeing how much we have, not how much we lack, I’d call that a miracle. If Jesus changed our lives so that our impulse was to share instead of keep, to open our hands instead of grasping tightly, I’d call that a miracle. But the miracle for which I give deepest thanks in this passage is that Jesus sees us with such compassion, again and again. That despite our giving God many reasons to be exasperated, we follow a Christ who gazes upon us with such love and hope as to be twisted up in knots over it. That’s a miracle. And if in our following of this Jesus, we can learn to look with the same compassion, with the same love, the same hope, so that we’re making room at our lunch tables, and opening the doors of our heart to those who are knocking: that would be a most welcome act of God in our lives. Fortunately, we serve a God of all kinds of miracles. In fact, these welcome surprises of God happen so often, I think our biggest danger is in failing to recognize them when they happen. Thankfully, God invites us to participate in miracle-making, giving us front row seats to the amazing things God has in store. “But Jesus answered them, ‘You give them something to eat.’” Amen. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Lectionary Note for Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (Proper 11, Ordinary 16)

Readings for Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, 7/22/12: 
2 Samuel 7:1-14a, Psalm 89:20-37, Ephesians 2:11-22, Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

2 Samuel 7:1-14a:
  • David feels bad that he's living in a nice house while God travels via tent in the ark. So he offers to build God a cedar house. And God says, "who says I need a house? I've been doing just fine without one!"
  • I think David's impulse is ours - wouldn't it be nicer if we could put God somewhere where we would always know where God was? But we get into trouble when our wanting to know where God is turns into wanting just to control God - period.
  • What would it mean if you would just led God travel through your life, and not try to restrict God to only a part of your life?
Psalm 89:20-37:
  • Says Chris Haslam, "Overall, a king, on behalf of the people, laments some disaster and blames God for it, but our portion of the psalm recalls what God “spoke in a vision” (v. 19) to Nathan and/or David."
  • Our part of the Psalm focuses on God talking about the power and anointing that he gives to David.
  • If God was to write a promise out like this for you and what God has planned for your life, what do you think it would say? What do you hope it would say?
  • "forever I will keep my steadfast love for him" - God's promise not just to David, but to us too.
Ephesians 2:11-22:
  • "For [Christ] is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us." Yes, yes, yes!! Oh, what a message we need to hear and live into in this time, this country, world, church, denomination...
  • "one new humanity in the place of the two [groups]" - Why do we still live as if Christ had never eliminated the groups we've put ourselves into?
  • "peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near" - throughout, Paul is speaking about Gentiles and Jews. But we can always self apply. Do we always see ourselves as "those who [are] near" and everyone else as "far off" from Christ? He brings peace to both.
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56:
  • This scene takes place immediately after last week's text where John the Baptist is beheaded. Retreating, then, seems to be in response not only to the disciples returning, but also to John's death.
  • "compassion for them" - the theme of Jesus' reaction towards the crowds throughout his ministry, even when he wants to be getting away. I wish I could say I always reacted the same way when I'm trying to get away and someone comes to me in need. The Greek word here for compassion is  from splanchnizomai, which means literally to "feel bowels of pity" - it is a physical, gut reaction of the insides - your stomach literally turning over in compassion. That's what Jesus feels when he sees the crowds.
  • "like sheep without a shepherd" - wandering, aimless, lost, without purpose. That's us at worst, isn't it?
  • "rushed about the whole region" - imagine how excited they must have been to have an opportunity to meet with Jesus, considering the communication available to them to let people know he had arrived.
  • relentless. The people were relentless in their pursuit of Jesus. Mark even indicates this in the pace of his short but relentlessly paced gospel. Very little rest in this account of Jesus.

Lectionary Notes for Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (Proper 10, Ordinary 15)

Readings for Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, 7/12/15:
2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19, Psalm 24, Ephesians 1:3-14, Mark 6:14-29

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19:
  • This is a strange passage, and in it, Michal, one of David's wives, and daughter of deceased King Saul, comes out looking whiny and moody. But make sure you know her whole story. She was in love with David, and he married her, but eventually when he and Saul came into conflict, Saul gave Michael to another man to be married. When David wanted Michal back, he had to tear her away from her new husband, who followed after them crying. It is not surprising that she isn't thrilled to see David prancing around in his ephod (decorative ritual underwear!) Chapter six unfortunately ends with noting that Michal remains barren, not able to continue her family bloodline. I think she gets a bad deal.
  • That aside, the heart of the text today is in David's full body, soul, and heart dance before the Lord. He literally puts his whole self into giving thanks to God, dancing "with all his might." We are rarely so free and uninhibited when it comes to putting ourselves before God. What's holding you back?
Psalm 24:
  • What belongs to God in this psalm isn't limited to humankind - we too often act like that's all that's meant by God's creation!
  • Check out Chris Haslam's notes for background on this psalm.
  • "clean hands and pure hearts" - A mix of motherly and godly advice?
  • This psalm ties directly to the Advent hymn, "Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates." The psalmist prepares for a triumphant arrival of the deity.
Ephesians 1:3-14:
  • "adoption as his children through Jesus Christ" - The language of adoption in terms of our relationship to God stirs mixed emotions for me. On the one hand, it is such a loving image of God choosing to make us part of God's family - going out of the way to make us children of God's own. On the other hand, I hear a lot of the biblical witness saying that as creatures of God, created by God's hand, that fact alone makes us God's children. Are we or aren't we all God's children? I think we are…
  • "The Beloved" from the Greek agapema, meaning, an object of love. Here Christ is called the beloved, the same word God speaks to Jesus at his baptism in the Jordan. Elsewhere in the scriptures, we are called beloved. One of my former bishops, Bishop Violet Fisher, always opened her letters by addressing us as The Beloved. Amazing comfort in little words.
  • "having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will" - predestined, from the Greek prooristhentes, meaning "to determine beforehand". Are we predestined to be adopted or not adopted by God? To heaven or hell? If we believe that God has plans for our lives, which I do, how is that different than believing that God has determined already our final salvation/non-salvation, which I don't believe?
Mark 6:14-29:
  • This text is another one that has dancing in it - a strange connection for texts.
  • Foolishness - King Herod, walking the line with a chance of making a right or at least better decision, perhaps even somewhat intrigued by John, winds up, as the result of a drunken promise, beheading him. What is the most foolish thing you've ever done? How might things have been different in the long run if Herod had not been so foolish?
  • How do you think John's disciples felt? The gospels tell us that they interacted, of course, with Jesus' disciples - do you think they were disillusioned? Went to follow Jesus? What do you think they did?
  • Following news of these events, Jesus tries to withdraw from the crowds, but that's the text for another Sunday...

Friday, July 03, 2015

Lectionary Notes for Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (Proper 9, Ordinary 14)

Readings for Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, 7/5/15:
2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10, Psalm 48, 2 Corinthians 12:2-10, Mark 6:1-13

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10:
  • "bone and flesh" - it must have given David great comfort to hear these words of commitment from the tribes, even after they had served under Saul. We don't always have such great success at transitioning leadership in the church, do we? Of course, with Saul's death, this transition wasn't exactly smooth either...
  • In verse 2, the people say it was David who "led out Israel and brought it in" - tasks of a shepherd. This imagery sticks with David throughout his life - it is how he views God (Psalm 23) and how God has called him to be.
  • "30 years old" - Wow. At 27 as I write this, I can't imagine being King of such a messed up country at 30. Impressive.
Psalm 48:
  • This psalm focuses mostly on the beauty of Jerusalem, the holy place, and Mount Zion, a holy and loved place in Jerusalem. Perhaps the biblical equivalent of "America the Beautiful," which happens to be my favorite patriotic song - focusing on what we love about our homeland and our thankfulness for it, as opposed to focusing on our superiority over others.
  • Still, perhaps this psalm is a little "Star-Spangled Banner" - we do get a bit of enemy talk in here (what is a psalm without it, right?)
  • What's your favorite holy place? What's your favorite convergence of home and God?
2 Corinthians 12:2-10:
  • "caught up to the third heaven" - Paul clearly has a different understanding of cosmology than do we today - check out Chris Haslam's notes on the topic.
  • "thorn in the flesh" - I think we can all relate to Paul here, even if we'll never know exactly what Paul considered his "thorn in the flesh." We all know our thorn or thorns. What's yours? How do you deal with it?
  • "boast" - Someday I have to count the number of times Paul uses the word 'boast' and the number of times he is writing about how he's really not boasting!
  • "whenever I am weak, then I am strong" - a very Jesus-like paradoxical statement
Mark 6:1-13:
  • Jesus' experience of going home and finding people less-than-welcoming is not unusual. Things are never the same when you leave and go back again, are they?
  • The disciples here make an initial transition to apostles - ones sent. Christopher Moore, in his hilarious and poignant Lamb, has this conversation between Joshua (Jesus) and his disciples: “Okay, who wants to be an apostle?” “I do, I do,” said Nathaniel. “What’s an apostle?” “That’s a guy who makes drugs,” I said. “Me, me,” said Nathaniel. “I want to make drugs.” “I’ll try that,” said John. “That’s an apothecary,” said Matthew . . . “Apostle means ‘to send off.’” . . . “That’s right,” said Joshua, “messengers. You’ll be sent off to spread the message that the kingdom has come.” “Isn’t that what we’re doing now?” asked Peter. “No, now you’re disciples, but I want to appoint apostles who will take the Word into the land . . . I will give you power to heal, and power over devils. You’ll be like me, only in a different outfit. You’ll take nothing with you except your clothes. You’ll live only off the charity of those you preach to. You’ll be on your own, like sheep among wolves. People will persecute you and spit on you, and maybe beat you, and if that happens, well, it happens. Shake of the dust and move on. Now, who’s with me?” And there was a roaring silence among the disciples . . . [so] Joshua stood up and just counted them off . . . You’re the apostles. Now get out there and apostilize.” And they all looked at each other. “Spread the good news, the son of man is here! The kingdom is coming. Go! Go! Go!” They got up and sort of milled around . . . Thus were the twelve appointed to their sacred mission.”
  • Think of how detailed our preparations for traveling are these days. Itineraries and packing and repacking and maps and GPS - could you go out as unprepared as Jesus sent the disciples? And yet, they do it, prepared in the ways that count, as much as they can be.
  • How prepared can you really be, anyway? Before actually starting my first day as a pastor, I still felt unprepared. Trained, equipped - but nothing can totally prepare you for the real thing. You just have to do it. So it is with being sent by Jesus. We just have to do it.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Lectionary Notes for Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (Proper 8, Ordinary 13)

Readings for Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, 6/28/15:
2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27, Psalm 130, 2 Corinthians 8:7-15, Mark 5:21-43

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27:
  • David laments the deaths of both Jonathan, who he loved dearly, and Saul, who spent a lot of time trying to kill David. Could you give someone like Saul such a lament? Apparently, David was sympathetic to the obvious psychological distress Saul seemed to be in over David's rise to power.
  • "greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women" David and Jonathan are constantly expressing their love for one another. What was their relationship like, do you think? Today, we don't encourage such emotional expressions from men, especially directed at other men.
Psalm 130:
  • A favorite Psalm. My favorite musical setting of this Psalm is the John Rutter Requiem.
  • Out of the depths - what are the depths from which you call to God? Do you remember to call to God from your lowest low?
  • This psalm shows a great faith and hope in God's grace and forgiving mercy, unlike some psalms that are more bent on vengeance: "If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord , who could stand?" It is a nice change.
  • wait, wait, wait the psalmist says. I've read statistics before about how many years of our life we spending waiting in line for things. How much of your life do you spend waiting on God? Are you more patient about waiting in line for concert tickets than you are about waiting for God? 
  • Relate this Psalm to the text from 2 Samuel. They are both laments. Do you lament to God?
2 Corinthians 8:7-15:
  • Paul 'butters up' the Corinthians, telling them they excel in everything else already, so no doubt they will excel in following the teachings he gives now.
  • :11 "finish doing it" - Good advice for the church. How often do we get fired up with new ideas, new hope, new visions for our church, only to run out of steam and energy and creativity before we follow through?
  • Paul is talking about a deep generosity - "your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance." Fair balance - do we have much of that today in terms of abundance and need? Hardly!
Mark 5:21-43:
  • Synagogue leaders weren't always welcoming to Jesus and his teaching - and yet Jairus humbles himself and turns to Jesus in need. When was the last time you had to humble yourself?
  • The woman knows just being near to Jesus, touching him, will bring her healing. Can you imagine her faith?
  • The KJV of the Bible calls the young girl in this passage a "damsel." I just can't picture Jesus saying damsel, can you?! :)
  • "something to eat" - the eating in passages like this is a sign confirming she's really alive and really human, not some spirit.
  • The little girl's perspective is one we never get - we hear from everyone else. What do you think she was thinking when she was raised? Have you ever had a near-death experience?