Sunday, December 09, 2018

Expecting Jesus: and a Way out of No Way

Advent 2 - Luke 3

For two whole verses of the six we hear from Luke this morning, Luke is establishing the time and the place, the sources of power—the reign of the emperor Tiberias, a governor over Judea, Herod over Galilee… priests in charge, Annas and Caiaphas…
and somehow, within and beyond all that, John son of Zechariah—Zechariah who in his old age had a child with Elizabeth, a child with unusual pre-birth stories—a child who jumped in his mother’s uterus at the appearance of Mary, pregnant with Jesus. A child whose father was silenced by Gabriel until the baby was born, until he confirmed that what Elizabeth said was true - the child would be named John – a name that was not a family name but a meaningful one: God has been gracious; God has shown favor.

ThisJohn is in the wilderness and it is there that he is baptizing and calling people to turn around into a new way of life—crying out as Isaiah cried out before him:
            In the wilderness, prepare a way so that everyone can be saved by God.

John, the forerunner of Jesus, the one that we usually call John the Baptist is doing so much more. He is baptizing, it’s true. But that’s not what shows who he is… 
In fact, John doesn’t really care if people understand who he is (although the people are really, really curious about that). All John cares about is the One to come.

Who is John? He’s just the voice crying out in the wilderness to prepare the way.
Who is John? The Messiah? A prophet? No, he describes himself as not even worthy to untie the shoes of the One who’s coming.
Who is John? He came as a witness to testify to the light coming into the world.

In the work all our preparations for Christmas—snow shoveling and lights hung up, tree selection and decorating, gift-selecting and wrapping, cookie baking and meal assembling… 
John’s voice calls, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'

Light flickers in the midst of the busy, filled days and the dark, weary nights—the light of Jesus who is already among us, but whose presence we can easily miss… Jesus, who calls, “Come and see.”

Come and see. Come and know me better. Come and take in the light, glowing and growing.

This week, I had the opportunity to be at a meeting at Redeemer Lutheran Church, Minneapolis, and while I was there, I saw a little ad for their annual Christmas store. I remembered how years ago, very early in our time in the Twin Cities, our family was invited by Pastor Kelly Chatman to come to Redeemer Lutheran Church’s annual Christmas Store. This event was created to give neighborhood children a way to buy presents for their families. Gifts are donated from congregations throughout the Twin Cities area and children can come to buy four gifts for a dollar. We were invited to bring our children with the gracious words that we might not need that kind of opportunity but please come.

Here are some great memories from that event—
Imagine a young teenage girl who took the microphone and began to sing a song from Mary, Mary:
I just can't give up now, I've come too far from where I started from…Nobody told me the road would be easy and I don't believe he brought me this far to leave me.

Then, there was the picking out of the gifts… “Elves” from the congregation took children to pick out their gifts, assuring them that there were still plenty of wonderful items left.

Others helped them wrap and tag the gifts and each child left like joyful little Santas, with a bag of presents to share. 

This display of abundance, where everyone had the chance to enjoy music, eat lunch, take gifts home was a little glimpse of how the light of Christ can make us a beacon of hope for our neighbors. 

We use light as a metaphor because of the way a very small candle can illumine a very dark space, because of the way one candle can light another candle and the light from the first becomes no less. We use light because in both the ancient world where the scriptures were created and in large parts of our modern world light brings a sense of safety, warmth and community.

It reminds me of this prayer that comes from the Easter vigil, the prayer said as we light the Christ candle, “We sing the glories of this pillar of fire, the brightness of which is not diminished even when its light is divided and borrowed.”

What a contrast to another, louder message we hear in ads and shopping pages and even in our own minds and hearts throughout this whole season of getting ready for Christmas—the message that what we have done and what we’re able to do, from gifts to nuts, is probably not quite enough. That we must guard our little corner of the civilization and keep others out. That we must keep our focus on ourselves and our loved ones.

The message of John the Baptist, proclaiming Jesus in the wilderness among us, is exactly the opposite. This is the one who makes a way for all. This is the one who shows God provides plenty even amidst scarcity. This is the one who is preparing a place for us, but not just for us… a place where we can experience Christ’s love and peace and joy.

This week, we light another candle. The light visibly grows and grows throughout the deepening darkness of this season. May this be how it is among and inside us… as we prepare a way, as Christ makes a path home for all. For there is One who is in and around us and who will show up in the most unexpected of places—in the busy filled days, in the dark weary nights, in all joy and in pain too, giving hope—Jesus, the savior of the world.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Forever means forever

Advent One – Luke 21:25-36

Strange things will happen… to the sun, the moon, the stars… the nations on earth will be afraid of the roaring sea and tides, and they won’t know what to do… people will be so frightened they’ll drop to the ground… 

Today is the beginning of the year of Luke, from December through next November, except for the story of the Magi from Matthew and some Sundays in the gospel of John, we’ll mostly hear the gospel according to Luke this year. It’s one of my favorites because always, Luke shows Jesus turning the world right side up. The lowly are brought up, the oppressed are set free, the oppression in the world order is broken apart. But, obviously, when you’re in the middle of a world order being upended, things look terrible. So we begin Advent remembering than when everything looks terrible, there is more going on than we can see.

I’m not terribly into the apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic genres (describing the destruction of the whole world and life as we know)—in books or movies or life—but this year, I’ve brushed against these stories a couple of times. I read local author Louise Erdrich’s novel, The Future Home of the Living God. It is a near-future dystopia where because of climate change there is no longer any snow, barely even a memory of snow. On days like today, where our numbers are leaner due to the snow, it might seem like that’d be okay (!) but reading the description converted me to take snow as a gift. And in addition to the changes in weather in the story, evolution has reversed, leading to horrific changes in nature and human community. The main character, Cedar Hawk Songmaker, the book’s narrator, puts her thoughts about their lived reality this way: “Maybe God has decided that we are an idea not worth thinking anymore.”

One of my relatives this week, commenting on actual horrific fires and the threat of a tsunami in California and Alaska these past weeks wrote, “The earth isn’t very happy with us.” So, it’s not as if we can’t get our imaginations wrapped up in these stories that maybe we too are witnessing the end—when finally, although humans have been worrying about it for thousands of years, maybe this time it’s really true… of all the end times, maybe this is really it.

As the gospel writer Luke ventures into apocalyptic for a part of his story, his very early Christian community had to be wondering the same… as the temple was destroyed, and Rome fell, it looked like God (who controls all things, right?—heavens and earth, seas and skies)… God must have abandoned them. But no, Jesus says, “When all of this starts happening, stand up straight and be brave.” 

When you don't know what to do, when you’re so frightened you want to lay down and die, don’t spend all your time thinking about what you’re going to eat or drink or worrying about life… but watch and keep praying for strength and remember God’s promise “the sky and the earth won’t last forever, but my words will.”

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

Karoline Lewis wrote this week: Those are words I am holding onto dearly these days. For dear life, in fact. A promise that exposes false promises. A promise that keeps me going. While it is true that so much of life is trying to hold on to what inevitably will change, having this knowledge does not make it necessarily less difficult to cope. Do you feel the same?
On this first Sunday of Advent, moving into the season of Advent, we know ahead of time, we can see in front of us, just how much will pass away these next four weeks -- and quickly. Everything we anticipate at Christmas, everything we plan, what we try to take in, will be gone in a mere month. So, we will attempt to hang on to these moments with tried and true methods -- photographs, videos -- all the while realizing that even these go-to ways of keeping memories will themselves one day pass away. Nothing lasts forever.
And yet, perhaps there is no other time that this is felt more deeply than during the holidays, the mindfulness that nothing lasts forever. This month seems to accentuate the fleetingness of so much of life. Our attempts to remember events are also the means by which we cope with the loss -- that this moment in time can never be repeated in time, ever again.[1]
Luke tells his community that as followers of Jesus, as people trying to live in love with justice and mercy, they may experience legal difficulties, problems with neighbors, things falling apart… but that they and, as we receive his words today, we can stand up and raise our heads, knowing that God’s redemption is drawing near. Even if everything is falling apart, that’s not a sign of God’s absence or God’s lack of concern.
Even as we look ahead to the end of the story—Jesus death on a cross—death does not get the last word. Disciples’ hopes are dashed in their deep grief at Jesus’ death and then, Jesus meets them along the road and in the evening, around the table.
Starting this Wednesday, we’ll gather around tables downstairs in the Fellowship Hall for a meal and evening prayer. Through the simple food and words of that evening, we’ll practice noticing in and around the real, scary, worrisome events of our lives how Christ meets us, inviting us to be brave in the face of them. In Advent, we celebrate God’s coming in history (past), mystery (present) and majesty (at the very end). Advent isn’t just about the birth of Jesus but the many ways God comes to us—a shoot from the stump of Jesse, a lantern flickering in the wind, a deep breath… so we hope that you will make a little space in busy lives to come and share bread, pray together and find ways to be open to the mystery of the present so we can receive the love that Christ has for us.

The Wailin’ Jennys sing:
When the storm comes, don’t run for cover (x3)
Don’t run from the coming storm, there ain’t no use in runnin’[2]
Don’t run from the coming storm, You can’t keep a storm from comin’Gotta stand up and let it in, let love come through your door…

God’s work is not yet finished… God’s promises are still being kept, God is still saving and liberating people… God’s work is not yet finished. How do we wait in the meantime?
By lighting candles, sharing a meal. By loving one another as fully as possible… by letting others love us… by pursuing justice, mercy, goodness.

Jan Richardson, who has written about Advent at the Advent Door for years now says this:
The season of Advent gives us the apocalypse each year not only so that we might recognize it, should it come, but also—and perhaps especially—that we might enter more mindfully into our present landscape and perceive the signs of how God is working out God’s longing in the world here and now. The root meaning of the word apocalypse, after all, is revelation. And God is, in every time and season, about the work of revealing God’s presence. The one who came to us as Emmanuel, God-with-us, and who spoke of a time when he would come again in fullness, reveals himself even now in our midst, calling us to see all the guises in which he goes about in this world.
Advent reminds us, year in and year out, that although we are to keep a weather eye out for cosmic signs, we must, like the fig tree that Jesus evokes in this passage, be rooted in the life of the earth. And in the rhythm of our daily lives here on earth, Christ bids us to practice the apocalypse. He calls us in each day and moment to do the things that will stir up our courage and keep us grounded in God, not only that we may perceive Christ when he comes, but also that we may recognize him even now. There is a sense, after all, in which we as Christians live the apocalypse on a daily basis. Amid the destruction and devastation that are ever taking place in the world, Christ beckons us to perceive and to participate in the ways that he is already seeking to bring redemption and healing for the whole of creation.[3]
Nothing lasts forever – except God’s unending love and promise. God took on temporary life… to give us eternal life. God took on transiency to give us a permanent home with God. God took on death to give us resurrection. Because, with God, forever means forever.[4]

[1]Karoline Lewis, Dear Working Preacher,, December 2, 2018
[2]CBC Radio, Published on Aug 2, 2011,Winnipeg folk trio The Wailin' Jennys dropped by CBC Radio 2's Drive for a Session to perform music from their album 'Bright Morning Stars'. Watch
[3]Jan Richardson, The Advent Door,
[4]Karoline Lewis, Dear Working Preacher,, December 2, 2018

Sunday, November 04, 2018

God will wipe away their tears

All Saints Sunday, Isaiah 25 and Revelation 21

These are the pictures of the end of the story, according to Isaiah, according to Revelation…
God will make for all peoples a feast of well-aged wines, and rich foods…
Mourning and crying and pain will be no more… see, I am making all things new
To the thirsty I will give water as a giftfrom the spring of the water of life.

It’s a vision, but it’s not an easy vision to believe.
In this country that witnessed the massacre at Tree of Life Synagogue last week…
In this country “strengthening its borders” and trying to turn people’s hearts against the “caravan of migrants” traveling north seeking asylum from violence...
In this country where we have to have campaigns like Black Lives Matter and Doing Justice seminars and where our statewide organization, Isaiah, people of faith working for #faithnotfear, finds itself having to put out ads where people are helping each other out of snowbanks to counteract ads that want to divide people into their racial, ethnic groups and turn us against one another.

I read a lengthy article from the Washington Post from November 2nd.
Here was a description of two voices from that caravan of migrants (actually two groups of about 3500 and 3000 people) as they heard the news of our President’s words and actions against them:

The migrants were resting in a soggy sports field on the edge of town, a few miles from where Mexican families celebrated the Day of the Dead in the town cemetery.
“They won’t shoot because we’re not criminals,” Erik Miranda, 39, said of Trump’s threat that U.S. troops would open fire if attacked with rocks. “I lived there for 15 years. I know the United States is a country of laws.”
Miranda said he had been deported from America twice despite asking for asylum after being shot three times by the 18th Street gang in his native Honduras. “If the caravan reaches the border and enters, these people will have their day in court in front of a judge,” he said…
“How horrible,” Daniela Carbajal, 27, said when told of Trump’s threat. “I’m not justifying throwing rocks but remember: We have children among us.”
As she spoke, her 9-year-old son, Oscar, watched a video advising migrants of their rights, his head poking out of an orange tent Carbajal and her husband had just bought for 150 pesos. Inside, her 3-year-old daughter, Karla, was sound asleep.[1]
I thought… will they? Will they have their day in court? Are we still? Are we still a country of laws? There is a fearful part of me that wants to shout to them—turn back, turn back, because of what is happening at our border—more than 50,000 arrests each month. 15,000 troops being sent to the border
These travelers, walking what they call the Way of the Cross, trust that the United States is the place that Isaiah describes… a place of rich food, of well-aged wines, of water flowing free and abundant… yet our leaders send out messages that these thousands are criminals, dangerous, an invading mob of terrorists… that we should support our leader’s plans to separate them from their children, gun them down, keep them out of this country by any means necessary. We are supposed to be afraid of them, afraid enough to not care at all what happens to them.

But of course, we can’t respond like that because we gather here, so much like them… and we hear these words from Jesus:

Hear, O people, the Lord your God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is "You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."

Love God with every fiber of your being… and love your neighbor.

In view of our context, this ethic of love is an invitation to an incredibly different life than our unbelievably rich, narcissistic, violent-minded rulers can imagine.
We imagine and then begin to practice a gathering where everyone is invited to the feast, where God wipes tears away, where water is freely given out—like Knute did this year at the State Fair—rather than hoarded or tampered with so the poorest can’t get it in the desert… 

Some of our leaders want the people to starve along the way or die of disease in tent cities or be torn from the arms of their parents…
And yet, we attempt, week after week to believe in the crazy talk of a God who, out of the terrible, horrible realities that are killing us, brings new life and purpose… 

Spanish Jewish doctor and poet, Judah Halevi, wrote this…

‘Tis a fearful thing
to love what death can touch.
A fearful thing 
To love, to hope, to dream, to be –
To be 
And oh, to lose.
A thing for fools, this,
And a holy thing,
A holy thing
To love.
For your life has lived in me,
Your laugh once lifted me,
Your word was gift to me.
To remember this brings painful joy.
‘Tis a human thing, love,
a holy thing, to love
what death has touched.[2]

Today, we will say their names—the ones that we have loved, the ones that death has taken.
We’ll say their names even when it brings painful joy—joy because their lives have made us who we are and because their laughter and words made a difference;  pain because they have flown.
We see feathers, evidence they were here, but we really wanted more time in their presence, these who fly with their own wings and now are gone.

And so in response to this deep love, this deep grief, we practice.
We practice love… for those closest to us who need our love the most and for those far away, across a border who need us to act and vote on their behalf.

We resist all lies that would fill us with fear or stop us from doing what we can; instead we act with courage and solidarity with those who are our neighbors, in the wide, wide way that Jesus defined neighbor. We come together as church, we practice loving, and then we are sent to practice that deep love that finally brings us together around a rich feast where tears are wiped away.

[1]Nick Miroff, “Migrant caravan: What Trump’s threats sound like to the Central Americans trudging north”
The Washington Post, November 2, 2018
[2]Judah Halevi was a Spanish Jewish physician, poet and philosopher. He was born in Spain, either in Toledo or Tudela, in 1075 or 1086  and died in 1141 in Jerusalem.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Have faith, you will see the glory of God

Remembering John Opara                                                                            
Psalm 62; Ephesians 2:4-10; John 11: 17-27

Lord, if you had been here, our brother wouldn’t have died!

Among all the honest prayers in the Bible, this may be the most honest… Martha, then Mary, both said it directly to Jesus, their first questions when he finally got there—too late—to heal their brother Lazarus. He was already dead three days. 

We can identify with their grief. We know God’s healing power, God’s love for life, so when death comes, it feels like a betrayal. Jesus, if you had been here… how did this happen? How could this have happened? And everyone in the family grieves differently…

We have to love Martha... normally, she was holding everything together in the kitchen, nourishing guests, holding the household together. This day, she was the first one out to meet Jesus, ready with these words: Lord, if you had been here, our brother wouldn’t have died!Like many of us, for Martha, grief comes out as conflict. If any of you argued on your way here, just know that you're in very good company. Many of us try to control ourselves or others in response to grief and loss that feels so out of control. Martha is right there, holding Jesus accountable and that's what we would expect from her... But then also, in conversation with Jesus, she expresses such deep faith in resurrection and new life. She believes more than anyone that Jesus is the Christ.

Mary grieves in a different way... She says the same words, Lord, if you had been here, our brother wouldn’t have died… but somehow, it's different. She gets through to the deepest part of Jesus, and he breaks down in grief with them. Because Jesus grieves so fully with Mary and Martha and their whole community, it is not too much for us to imagine that Jesus comes alongside us and grieves with us at the loss of our brother, father, member Johnny... We grieve for all that was so good that we shared and all that we didn't get to share, all the dreams we had for times to come...

So in the biblical story, Jesus goes to the tomb and calls Lazarus out, back from the dead. As we gathered to plan this worship, we remembered how much Johnny's life looked like Lazarus,' called back from death to life repeatedly for twenty years. After a his first stroke at 43, and in each one since… Each time, John refused to let his physical challenges hold him back... And daily, he renewed his commitment to follow Jesus with trust, and the conviction that if God was calling him to life, God must have plans for that life.

John joined this congregation the same day that I did. I began as pastor on September 1stbut it was Reformation Sunday in October 2014, four years ago, that our group of 12 officially became members at Christ. We were a diverse group—from the countries where we were born, to our ages, and the types and sizes of our families... Diverse in so many ways, but we had a bond because we entered this community together. Over the years, John and I had significant conversations as he pursued the path of seminary and his dream of ordained ministry. He believed so strongly that this was possible, and although it did not all unfold the way that he hoped, I was always moved by his deep conviction and the way that he extended grace to others. After the birth of our daughter, he wrote a special greeting extending his prayers to us, he cared for us.
And he cared for you—your brother, your father, your husband, your grandfather… you’ll remember his guidance and challenges to be your very best, you’ll remember his humor and the laughter you shared, you’ll carry with you his hopes for forgiveness and reconciliation where that was needed, and his desire for you to take care of one another with love and commitment that matches, even surpasses his own.

It is hard for us to say goodbye, too soon... It felt like we should have had a lot longer together and we will miss John's strong voice reading scripture in such a humble and powerful way. We'll miss his presence one hour before worship on days when he was reading. We'll miss his prayers and his deep, "Peace be with you."

But even in our deep grief, we do not grieve as those with no hope, because the raising of Lazarus was a preview to Jesus’ own death and resurrection, an action that changed death forever. Now, we can know, even through the painful questions and cries to God and flowing tears, that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life… that even as Christ died and was raised, we too can expect that journey through death to unfold into new life.

Something I learned about Nigerian culture as I met with the Opara family is a teaching from grandfather to father to sons and daughters...
That John would never travel the same path twice... It was a way of staying creative, keeping safe, always following opportunities to learn from a new way. 

I am sure that if he was speaking directly to us today, John would have said, "I am so sorry for the things I have done and what I have left undone. Please forgive me... And he would say, "Love one another. Right now as you grieve, weep with one another and hold one another and care for one another across all your differences. Take responsibility for one another... Be family, be there for one another. And when you remember me, think of the good we were allowed to give to one another and receive from one another." And John would point you toward Christ for all that you need on this part of the journey, a way you haven’t ever been before…

John would point you toward the words of Psalm 62 – Only God gives inward peace, you can depend on God. God saves you and honors you… God is that mighty rock where you can find safety. Tell God each one of your concerns—God is powerful and very kind.

John would point you toward Ephesians—God is merciful! We were dead because of our sins, but God loves us so much that he made us alive with Christ, and God’s wonderful kindness is what saves you… sending Christ to make us what we are.

And John would have pointed us to the gospel of John, where Jesus reassures Martha and Mary and all the grieving ones that Jesus deeply loves, “Trust me, you will see the glory of God…” and so today, with these words held close, we release John to God’s everlasting care. God who knows us completely and loves us completely and never gives up on us. The path ahead may not be easy, but we know that with John we can trust Jesus, that we too—as we walk life’s unfolding path, as we one day step through death to new life—can have faith that we will see the glory of God

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Walking in Wonder

Mark 10                                                                                                                                                 

We realized last weekend, in a moment, that we were done with the crib. The beautiful crib that our sister gave to us, that worked so well, but let's be honest, our baby never really slept in, except for maybe 3 months of her life... We had used it for nearly two years for holding stuffed animals and sometimes as a place for a toddler to jump, jump, jump. But now, we needed to move it out because we found a play kitchen... And she's been wanting a play kitchen for months... And this spot where the crib sits is the perfect spot for a play kitchen.

Ben was ready to move it directly to the garage but something made me hesitate... Let me just reach out to Thaly and see if she knows anyone who needs a crib. And on Sunday, sure enough, she let me know that Mark knew of someone who needed it. Through Mark, I got connected to the neighbor of a brand-new immigrant family. They arrived just a couple of weeks before school started and they needed a crib. We arranged to bring the crib over to their house and carefully dismantled it so we could assemble it quickly... And then my fears started in. Our little one was crying as the crib went out the door. Was it too soon? Then, I was afraid we would break it in transport...

We went over in the dark because it's getting dark so fast these October days, and we had a little trouble finding the house number until… we spotted them. This was the house... Children peeking out of the windows & door at our slow-moving vehicle, waiting for us, expecting us. We went up to say “hi” and so many children were streaming out of the door... I brought the mattress to the walkway and two of them scooped it out of my hands, carrying it triumphantly inside. We assembled the frame and each one came to meet us and we learned everyone's name... so many “S” names, even a Sufjan! “My favorite singer is named Sufjan?” I said. “Really?!”“Yes!” Ben and the oldest teenaged boy carried the frame inside and we finished putting it together and explaining through the 10-year-old girl (also the family’s translator) how to lift and secure the side... Then, we showed this family photos of our family. And we asked the oldest boy where he went to school. "Harding!" And I explained that I knew at least two great teachers from Harding from this congregation... And then we exchanged hugs and thank yous and the 10-year-old girl brought us bottles of water, a custom that I recognized from visiting with our Cambodian members. And we left, filled up with this amazing wonder. It was the best part of my day to meet those eight children, their mother, their grandmother... And to have our lives intersect for just a moment, and to be filled with wonder about their story, past, present... and all that is to come.

In the part of Mark's gospel that we didn't read today, Jesus says some very hard things about how people treat one another. Jesus' specific example is about divorce but the point, I think, is about how we break one another and break relationships with on another all along life's way. I do not know the circumstances that brought this family to the Eastside of Saint Paul, but I do know that their neighbor called it trauma. Knowing that so many of us have been through trauma of one kind or another, does it make us fearful, critical, self-protective? Yes... But also, there is this huge opportunity that we're invited to practice compassion, curiosity, wonder.

The Columbian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez was asked by a friend... what did his think of his wife, Mercedes? Marquez, who has been with [her] for forty years now, said…”I know her so well now, that I haven’t the slightest idea who she is.” That is familiarity as an invitation to absolute wonder.[1]

John O'Donohue, a spiritual teacher and Gaelic speaker form county Clare, Ireland, writes this about fear... Fear derives its power... From the fragility of the human heart... Fear is negative wonder. It makes the self feel vulnerable and it can take away all the loveliness from your experience and from your friendships, and even from your action and your work.” (15)"Do not be afraid" is repeated 366 times in the Bible. That is once for every day and, as somebody said, once for no reason at all! (18)

O’Donohue notices: “Memory now seems to be focused almost exclusively on past woundedness and  hurt... (What if) people used their good memories and revisited them again and again, the harvest of memory that is within them, and lived out of the richness of that harvest, rather than out of the poverty of their woundedness?”(12)

And then he writes this about imagination, wonder… which might be our way to have more curiosity and less judgement, less fear and more wonder.
“Imagination never pretends to know it all. It never demands or claims an absolute standpoint, but it always relishes and celebrates the fact it is on the threshold where it cannot see everything. The kind of knowing that is in imagination is knowing through exploration... Every person, particularly the child, has incredible imagination. (20)
Imagination is also very, very compassionate. It will never take one side of a polarity or a contradiction, but it will try to weave both together and embrace them.
He remembers how William Blake said that Christ is the imagination... The prism of all difference that is. 
When your eye begins to become attentive to this panorama of [difference], then you realize what a privilege it is to actually be here. (25)

Imagination... Is about the awakening to and the recognition of the sacredness of all the difference that is. Where the imagination is alive, wonder is alive... Possibility is awake... (21)

I think that sometime in my past, I was told that the meaning of this story about receiving the kingdom like a child meant I just had to accept it, no questions, no wondering... But when I read these reflections by John O'Donohue, when I think of the children I got to interact with this week, the real children, their real behavior with all its ups and down, questions and insights, I think that wasn't the point at all.

Now, I think Jesus' words to receive the kingdom of God like a child are an invitation to greater play, greater imagination, more curiosity, more questions, more wondering...
My toddler and my big kids and my neighbors, are teaching me those practices everyday. 
Mommy, I don't like this play kitchen!
You don't like the play kitchen, why?
It's too big!
Hmmmm... But here's the great thing, it might seem a little small now,
but you will be growing and then it will be just right!
But I think I need a small, small one for my baby
Oh....and where would you put that?
Right here, and then I could play here and baby could play here.
When we enter into the wonder of the children in this church and in our neighborhoods and in our homes without judgment but with hearts to learn, with hearts seeking relationship, we enter whole new worlds... Worlds that remind us to keep our eyes wide open for all the possibilities, for the ways that things are still unfolding. These eyes help us see our way forward… with Christ who is imagination, who is compassion, and the One in whom we trust.

We are 150 years old… and also, we are at a new beginning—a brand new Deacon/Kitchen Coordinator (Consecrated and Installed yesterday), a new Office Manager, new people in the room, new giving/learning/serving opportunities, new kitchens on the way… and although it will stretch and change us to be open to all that newness, we’re invited to see all this as a path of plentitude opening before us.

A Blessing “For a New Beginning,” by John O’Donohue,Walking in Wonder
pages 25-26

[1]Quoted by John O’Donohue in his book Walking in Wonder: Eternal Wisdom for a Modern World, page 14. All bracketed numbers throughout the sermon are referring to the pages within this same book.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Our children are watching

Mark 9: 38-50   

Just a cup of cold water…

That’s what Jesus might have wished he would see after he said to his disciples, “Whoever among you want to be great…. be a servant to all the rest…” he might have wished he would see them acting kindly to one another, widening the circle, treating others with respect, sharing, cherishing…
After all Jesus was holding a child in his arms as he spoke to them… but no. The closest followers of Jesus still aren’t getting it by this point in the story. We can tell because in response to that invitation to a new, humble way of being in the world, John says this, “Ummmm… some people were casting out demons (yeah, that thing we weren’t able to do just a few chapters back) and we told them to stop it.”
Really?!                                                      You can see why Jesus loses his temper at this point. Clearly, metaphors aren’t working, so Jesus gets really worked up. Like Moses, long ago, who wanted God’s Spirit to fall on everyone, anyone who would operate out of love and compassion, Jesus looks them in the eye and tells them if they are going to put obstacles in the way of children to know and love God, frankly it’d be better for them to drown in the sea.

The children are watching… that is something I keep in mind when I’m preaching. I want to tell the truth the very best I can. Some part of me wants to get really animated about the events of this week, wants you to hear me outraged with you at the injustices we face… as women, as people who have suffered, as poor people, as people of color, as political people struggling for justice… I want to use Jesus-level metaphors for what those who abuse power can do to themselves… stuff like encouraging them to remove the body parts that cause them to sin, like Jesus did.
I want to show my outrage in solidarity with you, particularly because as I see what’s troubling you, as I interact with you, I want you to know… I hear you. I feel your pain. I want a different world, a world where women and children and men and elders are valued and honored and treated with the utmost respect.

And I remember the children are watching.
Far more than our outrage at injustice, I really want our children to see modeled for them in preaching and in our worship and our lives together, I want us to show them what Jesus was trying to get at before getting all worked up—eye gouging, worms, hellfire—before all that hyperbole, Jesus wanted them to serve one another. He wanted them to know the mercy of giving some thirsty person a cup of water.

Honestly, I did not have a lot of time to be glued to the news this week.
First, I learned of John Opara’s death… if you didn’t know him well, John was the one who even after multiple strokes, would stand up and read the scripture to us occasionally. He deeply wanted to serve God, and when he read the Word a few months back, I thought—some of the scriptures he read to us just wouldn’t sound the same coming from anyone else. That is the beauty of having such a diverse group of people willing to read…that we glimpse God in them, and we will miss him so much.

Next, our beloved Angie Shoaf who has served in the church office for five years was home sick this week and then hospitalized. Many of you know that she is a cancer survivor, and that months ago her doctors found cancer again. At Angie’s request and in cooperation with the Personnel Team, we have been moving as quickly as possible to find an Office Manager so that Angie could train in that new person and leave to pursue writing and art and tend to her health (her timeline, her ideas)… but this week, we realized together that the cancer is progressing too quickly to make all those plans possible. So, I sat with Angie and Randy as they waited for tests and absorbed the news and went home to embark on what we hope will be a healing marathon.

So that’s all to say that when I finally turned my attention to the news, it was Thursday evening. That evening, I talked with my mentor who had been absorbed by the hearings all day and was now not only troubled by the accusations but by his own judgement that this man would not be a capable or fair judge. On Facebook, I read post after post from traumatized women who are understandably outraged by a society that seems unable and unwilling to love and listen to women. I read the heart-breaking personal story shared by Jim Bear Jacobs, the wise Mohican teacher who led us on the Healing Minnesota Stories Lakota storytelling journey a few months ago, who shared that as a child, he was abused by his stepfather for 5 years before it came to light and went to trial. He described a trial that was very much like the hearing in the news this week… only Jim Bear, a 12-year-old boy, was the defendant. He had to face his abuser—“by all accounts an upstanding man”—and tell the truth. Jim Bear ended his story with these words, “ may see a man passionately defending his character from false accusations. I see a man that is deathly afraid of losing all the privilege, comfort and power that he has enjoyed for many years. I’ve stared into those eyes as a 12-year-old boy. I recognize it for what it is. Not righteous anger, but uncontrollable fear.”
Uncontrollable fear… it cuts us off. Just as certainly as gouging out some body part, fear makes us worried about all the wrong things.

How different things would be if a powerful man, risking one of the highest positions of power in the land, looked at his accuser and said, “I am so sorry for the pain I’ve caused you. I was a reckless youth, and I have learned so much since then. I want to be different, I want to make things right, and I am not in a position to be a fair and impartial voice. I step down in order to serve…”
That would be like a cool cup of fresh water.
It seems impossible, but we’ve all seen things like that, too.

We’ve seen those who ask for forgiveness, who seek to make things right, who show the children (and all of us) that there is good, there is healing, there is reconciliation.
We might not see justice, we might not see mercy in the short-term… but we do not have to be filled with despair because we know that God’s reign and God’s way bends toward mercy and justice.
Richard Jensen writes in Preaching Mark’s Gospel, “Whenever [someone] wants to draw lines in order to mark who is outside the kingdom and who is inside, always remember: Jesus is on the other side of the line! Jesus is always with the outsiders!”
With those who grieve, with the ones preparing for surgery, radiation and chemo; with the one abused, made vulnerable and called a liar… Jesus is with all of these.

Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber writes:
… sometimes it’s even harder to accept not just that God welcomes all, but that God welcomes ALL of me and ALL of you. Even that within us which we wish to hide: the part that cursed at our children this week, or drank too much, or has a problem with lying, or hates our body; the part within us that is too fearful to give our money away, or is riddled with shame or cheats on our taxes. ALL the parts of us we wish Jesus had the good sense to not welcome to his table are invited to taste and see that the Lord is Good. ALL of who we are is welcomed to his table to see that the gifts of God are free and for all.
Because here at this table, you can bring the most broken pieces of your life. Here you can bring the most broken pieces of this world. Here you can bring the most broken pieces of yourself. And you can receive, with no payment or worthiness on your part, the equally broken body of Jesus Christ. You don’t have to understand it or accept it. You don’t have to put boundaries or defenses around it. You just do it. So come with all of who you are and receive the living bread come down from heaven. Receive life and forgiveness and salvation with all the other broken saints, for it is this that unites us in the love of a powerful God.                                    [

A cup of mercy given to the thirsty… at this Welcome Table we show our children how to share, how to receive God’s gifts, how to be truly great. Together, we notice God’s Spirit going where it chooses and let go of fears and judgments. Together, we show each one that they are cherished.