Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Into the Wilderness

Image of small camper trailer parked at a wooded campsite. Camper is white on top and turquoise on the bottom.

Have you ever spent an inordinate amount of time on something only to have it prove fruitless? This has been my week. Between my risk for COVID and a stress fracture, it has been weeks since I’ve been able to go anywhere. Also, my primary coping mechanism for stress has been fitness walking (think 4 mph for 4-5 miles) and that is also off the table for the foreseeable future. So what ate up all my time this week? The search for a small camper, and by small I mean under 2000 lbs that our Jeep Renegade can pull. It seems I am not the only one with this great idea. In fact, I am very late to this game; there is nothing available in used models that fit in our budget. Yet, I kept searching and will probably keep searching because you never know.

It occurred to me that if I were as diligent in my pursuit of spiritual things as I have been in pursuit of a camper, maybe my time would be better spent. Yet, it is very difficult to sustain energy for something that cannot be seen and only sometimes can be felt. Usually, we don’t recognize an encounter with the Holy until we are looking back. It makes me wonder when Abraham and Sarah knew that they had made a covenant with God. Did they know it in the moment or did they realize later what compelled Abraham to pack up and move? I’m guessing that awareness of just who was guiding them and why came slowly, though there is no way to tell in the story.

I also think of Peter. It’s likely that Peter’s awareness of Jesus’ divinity flickered in and out. He saw Jesus do amazing things. He even tried to do some of them himself (walking on water). It’s clear that Peter loved Jesus and sometimes recognized him as the Messiah. Other times, though, not so much. Peter didn’t like when Jesus talked about how he was going to die and rise again. Did he invite Jesus to run away and never return to Jerusalem to avoid death? Who knows? We do know that Jesus called him “Satan” for focusing on human things.

It’s the human things that get in our way most often. If we focus on these kinds of things – our self-focused wants and desires – we don’t have to focus on divine things. These divine things are much harder – loving our neighbors, taking our cross, following Jesus. I mean, Jesus is talking about losing life for his sake, for the sake of the gospel. That doesn’t sound very appealing, does it? And, yet, isn’t there something very powerful in this mystery?

Are we able to deny ourselves? What is that cross that Jesus said we had to take up in order to follow him? Sometimes, I am able to deny my self-focused wants and desires for the sake of others. Not always, though. I think of the hours I spent looking for a camper this week to no avail, knowing I will keep looking. I don’t think anyone or anything suffered because I was focused on my own desires, this time. At other times in my life, though, others have suffered because I was consumed by my own wants.

As for the taking up of my own cross, this is often harder. While I am not entirely sure what Jesus meant by this, I hear it as carrying that which gets in the way of our relationship with God, that which diminishes or devalues us. We each have a weakness (or many) that hinder our relationship with God and, if left unchecked, become full-on sinfulness. The good news is that whatever the cross we carry, we have help. In the best of circumstances the community, the church, can help us carry it. We can say that Jesus helps us carry our crosses, though sometimes we need more tangible help than that.

How are we, as the people of God, the body of Christ, the church, focusing on divine things rather than human things? How are we making cross-carrying easier for our neighbors? Have we done enough to recognize and celebrate and honor God at work in the world – in, through, among, and around us? Are we more focused on ourselves as a church than we are on ourselves as the body of Christ called to love our neighbors as ourselves, bring healing to what we have broken in the world?

I have more questions than answers this week. Maybe this is why it is easier to focus on searching for a camper than it is on seeking God’s holy ways. Following Jesus, seeking God, bringing loving-kindness into the world, is not for the faint of heart. May we awaken more fully to the covenant of Love that binds us one to another and enables us to find life in the wilderness, the barren places, amidst the chaos.

RCL – Year B – Second Sunday in Lent – February 28, 2021 Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16  • Psalm 22:23-31  • Romans 4:13-25  • Mark 8:31-38 or Mark 9:2-9

Photo: CC0image by inactive user

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Celebrating Transfiguration

Image of a small child in a tunnel covered in graffiti. At the far opening of the tunnel is a bright field with a tree in the distance and a flock of birds in the sky.

Transfiguration Sunday is one of the most unappreciated holy days of the Christian year. In fact, some clergy avoid preaching on this passage because it is a mystery, and a confusing one at that. Yet, the message in the metaphor is one we desperately need on so many levels. This year, especially. Some say that we never left Lent in 2020 and now we are rapidly approaching it again. How are we going to manage this? Who needs a reminder of the finitude and frailty this year? Not many folx, for sure. Yet, how many of us need a reminder that we are indeed a temple of the Holy Spirit, the glory of God? This is what the transfiguration story can do. It can serve as a much-needed reminder that God’s glory is within us and can shine through anyone, anywhere, anytime. Let’s climb this mountainous mystery and figure this out.

I’m not going to speculate all that much on why Peter, James, and John were chosen to go up the mountain with Jesus. Maybe the others were busy. Maybe these three needed the mystical experience more than the others. Maybe they were the only ones with the right footgear to climb a mountain. Who knows? This isn’t necessarily the important part. They chose to follow Jesus up the mountain. Would you? Have you? They took the risk of following without knowing where they were going and what might happen when they got there.

This is where it gets weird and not worth lingering on the literal. Yes, it could have happened exactly the way the story is written. And maybe it’s a story of literally mythic proportions. Either way, there’s a message for us in the mysterious weirdness. In an unexpected moment of openness, the three disciples saw the glory of God shining through Jesus, unhidden and totally terrifying. They saw the truth of who Jesus was and it elevated him in the company of two other holy men – Moses and Elijah. The response of the disciples was to fall down in overwhelming fear and Jesus did not tell them not to be afraid. What does this tell us about the pure, unfiltered, presence of the Holy? It’s fine to recognize the Sacred in the setting sun, the flight of an eagle, the kindness of a stranger, etc. On the other hand, imagine what it would feel like to be in the presence of God unmitigated by Creation. Wouldn’t you be terrified, too?

We can talk about “mountain top” experiences and by doing so, we might diminish the power and value of this story. We talk about those moments when the Holy Spirit touches our human spirit and we are enlivened in some way. In college, we referred to this as a “spiritual high.” I’ve never heard anyone talk about these experiences with fear and trembling, though. Yes, sometimes the implications afterward were anxiety provoking in that they meant a life-change of some sort. The encounter itself, however, often left a sense of peace or hope or excitement in its wake. I’d venture to guess that few of us have encountered God in such a way that leaves us quaking in our hiking boots.

In contrast, we can totally relate to the three when they wanted to stay and build tabernacles. Maybe they wanted to honor God with altars. Maybe they wanted to hang out in that holy place and see if Glory would shine again. Who knows what their motivations were for wanting to stay. Whatever they were, we can relate. If you’ve had an encounter with the Holy, you might want to linger where it happened. You might be tempted to try to make it happen again. You might spend some energy longing for the experience to be repeated, perhaps just to confirm that it happened in the first place. It’s very human to want to stay in a place where the Holy Spirit has clearly shown up.

Of course, lingering wasn’t possible. There was work yet to be done down in the valley where folx live with all kinds of pain. We have no idea how long they were on the mountain with Jesus and we don’t know how long Jesus let them be in their awe before he told them that it was time to move on. And that caution not to talk about their experience until later was wise counsel indeed. They needed some time to think and to pray and sort out what meaning it all had for them, for their lives, and for all the lives they would touch. We would do well to pay heed.

Overall, though, this story tells us that the glory of God lies within. Maybe it will never shine through us with the pure unfiltered intensity that it shone through Jesus, yet anything is possible. We catch glimpses of God’s glory in other folx all the time. We see a holy sheen on those who engage their passion. Sometimes we feel it when we worship together. You know, that intense worship experience that is some-unnamable-how different from the usual worship service. My theory is that it takes more than one of us for true transfiguration to happen these days. Maybe that’s why there were three disciples with Jesus to bear witness to the three who shone with holy light. Maybe Glory is best experienced and witnessed in community. Maybe the deepest, truest connections with God come through others who’ve joined together to be vessels of Divine Love…

However it works, whenever it appears, God’s glory is a powerful thing. We would do well to remember that at least a spark or two of that Glory is within each of us. Yes, we will soon be reminded that we are made from dust and we will return to dust. And, yet, God chooses to shine through the dust, sometimes transfiguring what might be otherwise ordinary humans into spectacular visions of holiness.

On the brink of Lent, we are not alone in the wilderness, no matter how bleak or barren it appears. The glory of God shines in us and around us. When we gather together as the Body of Christ, we shine all that much brighter.

Shine on, my friends, shine on.

RCL: Year B – Transfiguration Sunday – February 14, 2021 2 Kings 2:1-12  • Psalm 50:1-6  • 2 Corinthians 4:3-6  • Mark 9:2-9

Photo: CC0image by Alan

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Seeking Wings Like Eagles

Image of an eagle flying over a blurred background of sky and trees

There’s not a lot of raising up happening, at least not in my neighborhood. I’m not even sure there are folx waiting for the Lord. I don’t think we know and we’ve dismissed so much of what we have heard. Sure, we might say that God is the Creator of all that is. I’m just not convinced that we allow this truth to sink into our lives and fill the void deep within. We keep trying to fit things into the emptiness in our lives. Sometimes we might feel satisfied for a moment or two. Then the yearning, the despair, the weariness makes itself known once again.

Maybe it’s because we make it all too personal. The words of the Prophet Isaiah were spoken to the people of God, not just one individual. We’ve forgotten how mythic imagination works best in community. When you are yearning for more than you can attain, the community around you can help clear a way for you. When you are on the brink of giving up because God seems so far away and your prayers seem unanswered, the community around you can hold hope for you and raise your prayers higher until you become aware of God’s presence once more. And the weariness that threatens us all these days, is abated when we come together as God’s people in worship, in song, in prayer, in lament, in earnest.

The Prophet was correct when he spoke about waiting for God and being raised upon things like eagles, running without weariness, and walking without tiring. This is only possible when we join together as God’s people. This cannot be sustained by one individual. As human beings, as part of Creation, we need one another; we are interdependent.

Not convinced by the ancient words of Isaiah? How about the actions of Jesus in Mark’s gospel? Simon’s mother-in-law was sick. Jesus healed her. Not for her benefit alone. The impact on the community was remarkable. We can get distracted by the line that says Peter’s mother-in-law immediately started serving the people in her home, or we can see this as a sign that she regained her vital role in the community. She who was sick was made whole and in her wholeness she offered hospitality to her guests. When we are whole, we strengthen the community by using our gifts and talents in service to others.

Then the crowds came. Jesus didn’t deny them. He healed all who came. He restored them to wholeness and gave them opportunities to serve their neighbors. The gift of wholeness is not meant to be hoarded by the strong; it is meant to be employed in raising up the most vulnerable around us. If any of us has been gifted with healing and wholeness, then we must use it to the glory of God by serving the least among us. Peter’s mother-in-law is a beautiful example of what wholeness could look like in a community where all are waiting for God, waiting to participate in the raising up of all our neighbors.

Yes, we can take time to go off to a quiet place to rest and to pray and to renew our spirits. Yet, even when we are away, the community of God’s people goes with us. It is on their strength that we can rest and seek renewal. It is on their hopes and dreams that we each can build God’s realm here and now. Just as we are one, we are many.

Theological math never quite adds up in a logical way. However, in a spiritual way it makes sense. We worship one God who engages the world in many forms, traditionally triune–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So too, the people of God. We say Christ has one body, the Church. Yet, there are many churches made up of many, many individuals. One Body, many members. Paul was right about this. Yet, we have a tendency to make faith all about us as individuals – what can God do for me? It’s time we turn this around and ask what we can do for God. Are we using our gifts and seeking wholeness to our own benefit or to strengthen the community of God’s people? Are we losing ourselves in the weariness that persists everywhere today or are we asking to be raised up to our rightful place as part of the Body of Christ, the people of God?

We can wait for God to intervene and repair what is broken. Yet, our waiting needs to be active. We need to be joining with our neighbors, building relationships, drawing in those we have marginalized, strengthening the community… you know, repairing what we have broken and seeing what God reveals in the healing. Together, with God and one another, we can rise up on wings like eagles…

RCL: Year B – Fifth Sunday after Epiphany – February 7, 2021 Isaiah 40:21-31  • Psalm 147:1-11, 20c  • 1 Corinthians 9:16-23  • Mark 1:29-39

Photo: CC0image by Sven Lachmann

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Be Barefoot with Moses, Paul, and Jesus

Image: crowd of protestors carrying signs for Black Lives Matter and anti-racism

Anyone remember the story of Moses and the burning bush? It isn’t really the cute children’s story we might have learned in Sunday School. And it isn’t one of those stories that had meaning then and is unclear for today. With the shooting of Jacob Blake last week and the Uprisings in Minneapolis last night, we need to revisit that story that has become too familiar to us. There’s a message in there that we need right now.

As you may remember, Moses was minding Jethro’s sheep one day when a voice called to him out of a bush that was burning but not being consumed by the fire. Moses was not looking to disrupt his complacent, ordinary life. For all we know, he liked tending his father-in-law’s sheep. God had other plans for him, though. He had to take his shoes off because the ground under his feet was holy (and it’s harder to run away when you are barefoot). God proceeded to tell Moses that it was time for him to go to Pharaoh and tell him to set the people of God free.

Note Moses’ response here. He basically said, “Why me? I’m nobody. Shouldn’t somebody else go?” Like most of us in the world today, if we happen to hear God’s voice calling us, nudging us, to go confront the Pharaoh or his agents, Moses begged off. We know that the story ends with Moses going to confront Pharaoh and eventually freeing the Israelites. What if it hadn’t? What if Moses walked on by? What if he just said, “Nope, not me”? and lived his life as a shepherd of sheep rather than a leader of people? Would God have called someone else? Did God try others before Moses agreed?

Back to today. What if every moment of discomfort we white folx experience when we read or hear the news of police shooting another black man or police responding to protestors with violence or police pepper spraying media is actually God reminding us that the ground under our feet is holy? What if, instead of turning away while wishing this unrest would all go away, we actually took off our shoes and stayed a while, listening to what God might be calling us to do? You know, starting with the judgement about “those people” who are Uprising? If you’re like me, meaning white, then you really don’t know what it is like to live under systemic oppression (white supremacy) for four hundred years. We really have no idea what it feels like to be treated as “less than” from one generation to the next. If we did, we might be tempted to unleash some rage as well when police act out of their racism and harm or kill people who have the same color skin we do.

Then once we’ve stopped judging and started to empathize, at least a little, then we can also stop defending the police. There is no excuse for shooting black people… in their cars… on the sidewalks… in front of their families… No excuse for kneeling on their necks…. doing nothing while they cannot breathe… God is asking us to free God’s people from Pharaoh’s ways. God is asking you and me to go to Pharaoh now. No excuses. We are needed because the police officers aren’t going to be taking their shoes off any time soon. Pharaoh has them trained too well.

Still not convinced this is a reasonable interpretation of the burning bush story? Okay. How do you feel about Paul and what he had to say in Romans? Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Paul is pretty clear in how we should act and how we should treat one another. Loving all our neighbors is Christian mandate. Hating evil means hating white supremacy and all the racist systems it sustains. Hating evil does not mean hating people who are not white. Wouldn’t it be more in keeping with God’s laws if we tried to outdo one another in showing honor? These days, showing honor looks an awful lot like the abolition of police and voting for change come November. There are too many people dying because Pharaoh and those in his service fear change – change that means equity and justice for all of humanity.

If you still aren’t convinced that God does not endorse systemic racism and is heartbroken by the white nationalist conflation of white supremacy and Christianity, how about that time Jesus called Peter Satan? Peter just wanted Jesus to turn away from Jerusalem where his fight with Empire would surely end in his death. Peter wanted Jesus to follow an easier path. Jesus was tempted. Why else would he call Peter “Satan” while telling him to get away? Yes, if we commit to fighting the Empire and it’s oppression, then we will be tempted by easier paths. It’s best if we take our shoes off so we cannot run away.

With our feet bare and our hearts open, may we burn with the passion for justice, burn but not be consumed so that we may actively seek to set ALL God’s people free.

If you are looking for sermon help, try here.

RCL – Year A – Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 30, 2020
Exodus 3:1-15 with Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c or
Jeremiah 15:15-21 with Psalm 26:1-8
Romans 12:9-21
Matthew 16:21-28

Photo: CC0image by

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

From Death to Life

20190507_120554

Those little purple faces poking up next to the sidewalk on my way out of church on Sunday were nearly my undoing. Not exactly the color purple in a field, but I noticed. I saw them innocently reaching for the sun, the first of spring flowers I’ve seen this year. And, yes, I thanked God for them even as tears flooded my eyes. My grief, my heartbreak, has me desperately searching for new life, signs that God has not yet given up on humanity.

Thank God for violets. And thank God for good friends who call to check in after seeing the sorrow, sadness, and anger on social media. A young man, so full of promise and love, murdered by another young man with an AK-47 for reasons yet unknown, maybe never to be known. My friend, sister in Spirit, crying out for her beloved son who is no longer here. I’m at a loss for words, grasping for hope, knowing this grief will be hers to carry forever; mine to share just a fragment, maybe not even enough to ease the burden.

Then my friend who called to check in. We’ve been friends for decades, and we’ve been through so much together, bearing one another’s burdens as only long-time friends can. After checking in, offering condolences, he said it. He didn’t know how pastors do what we do in times like these. Louisiana churches set on fire. Notre Dame burning. Churches bombed on Easter. Another Synagogue shooting. Rachel Held Evans dying. Oceans choking on plastic. Hunger and thirst killing people. AK-47s in the hands of the young, angry, and hopeless. Where is God? Where is hope? Humanity is lost and does not want to be found.

Truth.

And, yet… I often say that as long as there is breath there is hope. We can repent and seek God’s holy ways. It is not too late for those of us who live and breathe to turn toward Love. We can stop giving in to the lies of the Empire that feed the fear that divides us and dehumanizes our neighbors. We can continue to live in the deceitful myth that feeds our egos and tells us that we don’t need anything but willpower and determination. We can continue to tell ourselves that any success we have is because of our own hard work and not because others helped us along the way. We can uphold the pretense that our worship is the only right and true worship and that the lip service we spew out pleases God. We can continue as we are and call it life, life that contributes to rising suicide rates, the opioid crisis, and a decline in life-expectancy. There’s no immediate risk in preserving the status quo of fear, anger, hatred, and hopelessness, right?

We are destroying God’s creation because we’d rather let politicians and lobbyists get rich and believe their lies that tell us we can’t change anything because it costs too much. Our children are dying on the streets because white supremacy says black lives don’t matter and we accept it as fact. More and more people are engaging in suicidal behavior because we remain silent and judgmental when it comes to mental illness and keep the source of hope a secret meant only for the righteous. We have created, actively or passively, a world that accepts violence, thrives on fear, and feeds the vulnerable a steady diet of despair.

Enough. Peter walked into a death room and prayed for life. You know what happened? New life filled Tabitha. I wish I had that ability to breathe life into a dead body. I don’t. But we do have the power to breathe life into a dying church. Our thoughts and our actions are our true prayers. Rachel Held Evans was a voice of hope for the more evangelical, conservative church; her untimely death is a tragedy for her family, friends, and the church. I am confident her light will shine on as others continue her work. For the moderate to progressive church who claims to understand inclusion and welcome, who will shake us up? Who will come like Peter into the death room and call us to new life? Who will speak to us powerfully enough that the Spirit fills our lungs? Who will ask us to step away from our traditional sanctuaries and carefully scripted worship? Who will call us away from the safety of our practices and into the unpredictable flow of the Spirit?

We know how to heal Creation, where hope lies, and how to stop the bleeding. We do. We know the truth. Yet, we do not believe it, and it is killing us. The message of God’s love, lived out in Jesus, is the Truth we need. It is still the balm that can heal a sin-sick world. We are called to Love God, our neighbors, ourselves, and the whole of Creation. Jesus showed us the way from death to life, from human ways to holy ways. It’s love – with thought and action. Love that leaves no one behind. Love that speaks truth to fear, to anger, to violence, to hopelessness, to death.

I don’t know about you, but I cannot remain in this death room any longer. Pray with me. Come, Holy Spirit, come. Come now and lead us into life. Life that values everyone, that does not cower in fear, and will not let anyone slide into hopelessness. Let your church be as early spring violets. Undo us with the power of your Love right now.

If not now, then when? If not you and me, then who?

RCL – Year C – Fourth Sunday of Easter – May 12, 2019
Acts 9:36-43
Psalm 23
Revelation 7:9-17
John 10:22-30

Photos CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

New Hope from an Old Place

child-2443969_1280

Peter may have had a learning disability and Paul may have had MS. For some people these suppositions might be distressing or unnerving. For me, they are comforting and hopeful. If God could use Paul and Peter, not in spite of their disabilities, but through them, then there is hope for me, for you, for today’s church.

I’ve long had an affinity for Peter, but only recently realized that Peter as portrayed in the Gospels, has some indicators of a learning disability. He’s often impulsive and acting in a manor that suggests he hasn’t quite processed the reality of his situation. Like when Jesus walked on water and Peter was sure he could do it, only to take a couple of steps and panic. Or when he swore that he would never deny Jesus only to do that very thing three times in a matter of hours. Peter’s passion often gets the better of him.

Then there’s the experience of the Resurrected Christ on the beach. Jesus asks Peter if he loves him. Peter says that he does. Jesus repeats the question. Peter repeats his answer. Then the third time Jesus asks, Peter’s not happy about it. What we don’t see in the English translation and Peter didn’t hear is that Jesus was asking Peter if he loved him the way that God loves (agape). Peter was responding yes, but that he loved Jesus with a familial love (philios). On the third go, Jesus asks Peter if he loves him with a familial love, and Peter responds that he does. Peter missed what Jesus was asking. The good news is that Jesus knew Peter and understood him better than Peter understood himself. Jesus rephrased the question, so that Peter’s answer held truth. Jesus always met Peter where he was and used his passion and impulsiveness to build the church. Peter’s learning differences were not changed, healed, cured, or otherwise erased. God used him exactly as he was.

Paul’s story is similar if you are willing to entertain the idea that Paul had MS. His Damascus Road experience fits with MS symptoms fairly well. He was temporarily blinded. He fell off his horse. His body wasn’t working right for a few days, and then he got better. This does not negate the spiritual experience. In fact, it only makes the story more plausible, more powerful. In the midst of a physical crisis, God was able to reach Saul in ways that weren’t possible when Saul was reliant on his personal power and privilege. In Paul’s writings there are other things he describes that could be symptoms of MS. He wrote with “large letters” (Gal. 6:11). Maybe his unreliable physical health was the thorn in his side… Imagine the church’s greatest evangelist living with a physical disability! God used him to bring Christianity to the Gentiles, not in spite of his disability, but with it as part of his identity.

When a colleague suggested that Paul had MS it resonated so deeply with me. It also made me remember my theory that Peter had a learning disability. I was diagnosed with dyslexia when I was 19. At the same time, I developed double vision and some other symptoms that doctors thought were an atypical form of MS. The dyslexia diagnosis made sense to me as it explained some of my struggles with spelling and how slowly I read. But I didn’t share the news with very many people. Similarly, the tentative MS diagnosis isn’t something I shared with people very often, either. I didn’t want the inevitable judgment. Nor did I want to acknowledge my on suspicions of why I had these conditions.

Somehow having disabilities meant that my faith was inadequate. I would never be able to achieve Christian perfection as is commonly understood. Maybe if I prayed enough, I would be healed or cured or transformed in some way. Maybe the doctors were wrong and there was nothing wrong with me. Maybe if I ignored these things, they would go away and I could focus on my call to ministry. But what if these things were punishment for my sins?

More than 30 years later, I still have a learning disability though I am not sure “dyslexia” is the accurate label. I don’t actually have MS, I have a form of dysautonomia, Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) that has some symptoms similar to those of MS and has only been recognized since the early 1990s. While I don’t announce these conditions all the time, I don’t ignore them anymore. I no longer think that they are punishment for sin, nor do I believe that they keep me from wholeness (my newer understanding of perfection in the Christian context). I accept that a learning disability and dysautonomia are part of who I am, and God called me into ordained ministry knowing me better than I knew myself, and meeting me where I was while calling me into a future full of grace and love.

This is why I find it extraordinarily wonderful that Peter may have had a learning disability and that Paul may have had MS. God didn’t see them as broken. God called them into the fullness of their being, their whole selves, so that God could work through them to transform the world. God does not see our brokenness; God sees our wholeness. May we have the grace to see wholeness in one another and love with God’s love.

RCL – Year C – Third Sunday of Easter – May 5, 2019
Acts 9:1-6, (7-20)
Psalm 30
Revelation 5:11-14
John 21:1-19

Photo: CC0 image by Sarah Richter

Categories
Sermon Starter

Let’s Be Like Peter

ghana-684554_1280.jpg

I like Peter. In fact he is one of my biblical favorites. He has moments of impulsive wackiness, flashes of transformative insight, and he’s totally caught up in his humanity. And Jesus relied on him through it all. If Peter could be Peter and love and serve God, then there’s hope for me, for the rest of us. Luke’s story at the lake of Gennesaret is the perfect example of the hope Peter provides for all of would-be followers of Christ.

Early in the morning the fishermen return with empty nets and were washing them out. Jesus comes along and asks Peter to row out a bit. Jesus then proceeds to teach the crowds from the boat. We don’t know how long he spoke or what he said. All we know is that when Jesus was done addressing the crowd, he told Peter to continue out into deep water. I can almost see Peter roll his eyes before telling Jesus that they’d been out all night and caught nothing. But sure, if you say so, I’ll go out again.

Peter humored the unusual rabbi and lowered his nets once more. To Peter’s astonishment, it was worth it. He needed help hauling in his nets which were full to breaking. And it hits him with full force just who Jesus is and just who he is, “Lord, get away from me! I am a sinner! I did not believe in you or in myself. You picked the wrong guy. I am not worthy.” Jesus response is perfect. “Do not be ruled by your fear. You are meant to be catching people in nets of Love. Come on, we have work to do. You and me, and James, and John, and others along the way. Leave your fear with your boats and follow me.”

And Peter does! Peter will screw up again. His humanity will get the better of him and he will forget that Jesus is Lord. He will let fear overtake him again and again. His impulsive acts will get him into trouble. But he always comes back to Jesus and setting up those nets of love to catch people up short and free them from their fear.

The world needs more Peters. I try. I try not to get caught up in my fear or the fear that is so pervasive around me. I try to string those nets of Love, tying new knots where anger and hatred have torn through. Then there are those days when I just want to cry out, “Lord, get away from me; I am a sinner. I don’t believe this can be done. I don’t believe it can be done by the likes of me. I am afraid to love those who spew so much hatred. I am afraid that anger will get the better of me. I am not the one you want out in the deep water. I don’t think I can drop these nets.”

If I am honest, Jesus is always there saying, “Yes, you can. Love is stronger than fear. Most people don’t remember that, ever. Let down your nets and others will come to help bring in the catch. We have work to do.”

Yes, we have work to do. When a wall is being built in a way that separates loved ones on an arbitrary, human-made border, where is Love? When congressional women wear white and are called defiant rather than powerful and strong, where is Love? When white men in power refuse responsibility for their racism and the racist system that supports it, where is Love? When faithful people of all religions squabble about dogma and doctrine rather than coming together in efforts to raise up humanity and care for the planet, where is Love?

In this time of extraordinary fear and hatred, we must put our trust in that unusual Rabbi who directs us all to venture into deep waters. Then remains with us when we question our value, our ability and wonder if there is any such thing as holy wisdom and guidance, let alone Love. We cannot afford to give in to the fear and hatred that is encouraged by those in power. We need to string together our nets made of Love until acts of resistance topple the current empire and Love has its day. It has to be possible. We cannot give up. Do not be afraid. We are called to catch people with these holy nets tied together with Love.

RCL – Year C – Fifth Sunday after Epiphany – February 10, 2017
Isaiah 6:1–8, (9–13)
Psalm 138
1 Corinthians 15:1–11
Luke 5:1–11

Photo: CC0 image by hbieser

Categories
Poetry

Peter’s Proclamation

I am on vacation this week. Here’s a poem based on this week’s Gospel reading, from my book, Negotiating the Shadows. If you are looking for sermon help, try here.

sea-1862081_640

Moment of Truth

In that moment of answer
Peter was as sure as ever
he could be.
Did he hesitate in his proclamation
like he sank in the water
cut off a servant’s ear
denied You?
Or was it a moment of truth
certainty
without a doubt
to cloud his understanding
a moment of pure insight?

You confused the crowds
with Your words
Your power
Your being
then and now.

They thought You were
John or Elijah or some other
prophet returned to them.

Centuries later the question still echoes
and the answers remain the same
mostly
prophet
philosopher
spiritual guide
sometimes Messiah
though not without doubt.

Do You wonder why so many hesitate
sink in overwhelming waters
cut off so much more than a servant’s ear
and deny even the thought of You?

I do.
I wonder at myself
when I think about You
what I would say in response
to Your question
knowing that I can only hold
the fullness of You
for a moment or two
before I fall from the grace
of knowing into the certainty
of doubt.

You lived a new song
and the lyrics still echo
here and there
when we are attuned to You
we might hear “Messiah of God.”
Your words
Your power
Your being
now and then
step away from the crowds
to stand with Peter
in his moment of insight
to tell of Your salvation
today.

RCL – Year A – Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost – August 27, 2017
Exodus 1:8-2:10 with Psalm 124 or
Isaiah 51:1-6 with Psalm 138
Romans 12:1-8
Matthew 16:13-20

Photo: CC0 image by Thanapat Pirmphol

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Weather Forecast

boat.JPGI was bullied as a child, mercilessly and by many for years. I was teased for being tall, for appearing older than I was, and for the clothes I wore. I endured catcalls and lewd remarks from the time I was nine-years-old. I was harassed because I was smart, because I was always reading a book, because I wasn’t allowed to watch much tv, because I wore glasses, and because I befriended the “weird” kids. In truth I was a shy, sensitive child who came from a family that didn’t have much in the way of resources, physical or emotional. Needless to say, I have no patience for bullies today. I tend to side with victims without asking questions, even though I know that most bullies are pretty miserable people themselves.

Bullying seems normative in our society these days. Last week a mosque was bombed in the city where I work. This week the President is threatening North Korea with nuclear bombs. A couple of weeks ago someone died by suicide less than two miles from where I live and this week someone else engaged in similar suicidal behavior but did not die. Why are we in such a hurry to kill our global siblings, our neighbors, ourselves? More importantly, where are the Christian voices crying out for God, crying out against violence and the threat of more? Where are those who side with the victim and speak truth to power?

As I read the story of Joseph and his brothers, I am reminded that human nature has not changed much, if at all, in the intervening years. Joseph’s brothers debated between murder and slavery just because Joseph was their father’s favorite. Maybe he was a bit obnoxious and even flaunted his favorite son status. Did he deserve the degree of hatred his brothers had for him? They were going to kill him before one of them came up with the idea to sell him as a slave. We want to rush in and say that this wouldn’t happen today, not over a robe, multicolors or long sleeves notwithstanding. Yet, we can’t. People are killed over such things often enough. We can say that they aren’t usually literal siblings, but sometimes they are. And does it matter? If our Muslim neighbors are not safe in our neighborhood, neither are we. Bombs can’t tell the difference between a Muslim, a Christian, a Buddhist, a Jew, or anyone else. If there is nuclear war in North Korea or anywhere else, the entire planet will pay the price. When one person dies by suicide, the community is affected. We may not share blood the way that Joseph and his brothers did, but do we not share more than that? Are we not one in Christ?

When we forget that we are God’s people, we tend to do regrettable, selfish things. Selling our siblings into slavery, bombing our neighbors, or completely losing hope that there is a way through the pain. Of course, a simple profession of faith is not going to end oppression, or hatred, or abject despair. Peter professed his faith right out loud and walked on water. Until he sank. And he sank because he mistook Jesus’ authority for his own. His flimsy words were no match for the Word. As he sank into the waves, Peter experienced a deeper need for God, a need to literally be saved.

If ever the world needed a Savior, it is now. I’m not talking about saving souls. God can do that without our help. I’m talking about saving lives. You know, pulling Joseph out of the pit, defusing the bombs, ending wars, and offering hope to those who have none. All this means doing more than asking Jesus to speak our names. It means stepping out of the boat, trusting Jesus to walk with us through the storms, holding us up in the moments of drowning doubt. It’s time to stand up against all the bullies, bullies who live small lives full of anger, pain, and fear and feel better about themselves by humiliating and harming vulnerable people around them.

Jesus didn’t sit quietly on the sidelines when someone was hurting. Jesus intervened and offered healing and hope. As church, are we not the embodiment of Christ? Then we should be doing the very same thing. We should bring healing, hope, and welcome into community wherever we go. Joseph is crying out for saving. Our Muslim neighbors are crying out for welcome and inclusion. Our siblings across the globe are crying out for end to meaningless war. People are around us are crying out for hope. We, as church, the Body of Christ, have the capacity to transform this culture of bullying into a culture of grace.

The time for silence and inaction has long passed if it ever existed. If you are a follower of Christ, then the time has come to save lives. Speak up against the bullies everywhere you encounter them, especially if it is in the Oval Office. Welcome our Muslim neighbors with more than words. Offer love and kindness to all those you meet; you never know when a small kindness will make a life-saving difference. We can choose to remain silent and safe and lend tacit power to those who are bullies. Or we can take the risk of doing something new and different by reaching out with a friendly hand. The storm is raging all around us. It’s time we give up our seats in the boat for those more vulnerable and learn how to embody the words that will finally bring an end to the raging winds and blinding rains.

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28 with Psalm 105: 1-6, 16-22, 45b or
1 Kings 19:9-18 with Psalm 85:8-13
Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 14:22-33

Photo CC-BY-NC image by Rachael Keefe</a

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Never Beyond Redemption

During my years as a clinical chaplain in a psychiatric facility, I met several people who had committed horrific crimes while in a psychotic state. Generally, these were individuals who were kind and gentle when they were well. They also struggled to believe that they could be forgiven for what they had done. I had many conversations about God’s capacity for forgiveness and how God’s love is not limited by anything, not even drug abuse, violent crimes, and psychosis.

These kinds of conversations usually left me and the individual wishing for more. I wanted to be more convincing so as to bring a degree of peace and healing. They wanted to believe me but could not. Fortunately, there was worship which is often where unexplainable things happen.

Every Sunday afternoon we’d gather for worship in the hospital’s small chapel. The chapel seated about 30 and there was frequently an overflow crowd in the hallway. We had 45 minutes for worship and it was a challenge to make it meaningful each week. Looking back, I should never have worried too much about that. When the Holy Spirit shows up, it’s meaningful.

Each weekly worship offered communion to all who gathered. I know my understanding and perception of people changed as I offered them bread and wine saying, “This is the body of Christ broken for you. This is the cup of salvation poured out for you.” In those moments a person who seemed lost or difficult or unreachable became one of God’s Beloved. Before we got to this point in the service, though, I would speak words of absolution after the prayer of confession. Every Sunday I would say something like, “You are beloved children of God. In Christ you are forgiven and set free to live in God’s love.” During my last few weeks at the hospital, more than one patient told me that they never believed they could be forgiven. Yet when I said those words each week, they began to think that maybe even they could be forgiven. And then maybe they could forgive themselves.

paul-1158086I find myself thinking of these folks as I read the scriptures this week. God’s love and forgiveness really is without limit. Think of Paul. We know the story of his conversion, but do we hear the message? It isn’t so much about the dynamism and power of his being knocked off his horse and blinded as much as it is about God’s startling capacity for forgiveness and redemption. Saul was a brutal man. He sought out, persecuted, and sentenced to death many Christians. He believed he was right and good doing this on God’s behalf. Until God told him otherwise. If God can forgive murdering Saul and transform him into proselytizing Paul, how much more can God do for my former patients, for me, for you? Why do we hold on to sins far less damaging than hatred and murder when God is ready to grant us new life and freedom right now?

Still not convinced? Then let’s look at the Gospel text. The disciples are fishing in the days after the Resurrection. What else can they do? Jesus has left them and they are grieving, but they need to eat and provide for their families. They aren’t having much luck until Jesus shows up and shows them something about abundance.

This is followed very shortly by a conversation with Peter. Jesus askes Peter, “Do you love me unconditionally?” Peter responds, “I love you like a brother.” Jesus says, “Tend my sheep.” And then this is repeated. “Do you love me unconditionally?” “I love you like a brother.” “Feed my sheep.” And once more with a slight change, “Do you love me like a brother?” “I love you like a brother.” “Tend my sheep.”

Jesus is asking something of Peter that he isn’t quite able to give. There’s an honesty here. Peter can’t say that he loves Jesus without condition when the memories of denial are still so fresh. But Peter does love Jesus, truly. Jesus, ever gracious, meets Peter where he’s at. It doesn’t matter whether Peter can love Jesus the way Jesus is asking. Jesus’ response to Peter is still the same. Take care of my children, especially the vulnerable ones.

We place a lot of conditions on our love for God. Sometimes it’s guilt and shame as was Peter’s problem. Sometimes it’s memories of painful experiences. Sometimes it’s reluctance to accept that God is God and we are not. It doesn’t mattrosary-1212863er, though. If we love God in any way, no matter the limits or conditions, the required response is to care for the children of God, especially the vulnerable ones.

These two passages present the Gospel for all reluctant followers of Christ. First, nothing you have done or said prevents God from loving you and forgiving you. Second, no matter the limits you place on your love for God, the call to care is evident. It’s time to get out of our heads and change the world for the sake of the most vulnerable among us–children, immigrants, refugees, those without homes, those who live with mental illness, the elderly, those who are food insecure, trans people, women, and the many more who are feeling lost, alone, and forgotten. You never know when your words or actions will awaken someone to the hope, the promise, the redemption found only in the abundance of God’s love for the whole of creation.

RCL – Year C – Third Sunday of Eater – April 10, 2016
Acts 9:1-6, (7-20)
Psalm 30
Revelation 5:11-14
John 21:1-19

Top Photo CC0 image by falco
Bottom Photo CC0 image by Myriam M.