Sunday, December 31, 2017

Thanks and Yes!

Wedding of Elizabeth and Nathan                                                                                                          

Before we ever knew that this day, the last day of 2017 was going to be your wedding day, Nathan and Elizabeth, we set the theme for today as “Thanks and Yes.” Since tonight is New Year’s Eve, it seemed like a great way to look back on the year—picking out reasons for remembering with gratitude—and a way to be open to all that is coming in 2018, all that we might approach with open-heartedness and curiosity, all that might be challenging (but who doesn’t like a good challenge?) and all that we are called by God to be part of doing… to all that, we might say, “yes!” And so that theme was set, when all we knew is that we’d have this story from John 1 of John the Baptist looking at Jesus and saying “Yes!” That’s the One!

But I’m getting ahead of myself… when we found out that today, this very Sunday morning, would be your wedding day, that theme seemed even more delightful!

Two and half years ago, I participated in a Tea Ceremony at the Como Teahouse, in the Japanese Garden at the Conservatory. I had been waiting for this for a very long time, and I have to admit that even as I tried to get really into it, I did have some thoughts like… “Wow… and people think church is structured!” Every action in the tea ceremony is very prescribed, but within all those set patterns, the host calls attention to the fact that in spite of what might at first glance seem to be the same every time, within this ceremony are many unrepeatable moments. It’s an invitation to pay close attention and delight in this moment that will never be exactly this one again.
We will never gather with exactly this group of people again, people who have gathered to surround you, Elizabeth and Nathan, with their love and support, cheering you on because at some point, your lives have touched ours. We’ll never have a New Year’s Eve morning quite like this again…. and so it’s an invitation to be fully here because this Seventh Day of Christmas is like no other.

In the reading from 1st John, we heard, “No one has ever seen God… but if we love one another, God lives in us and God’s love is perfected in us.” Just like the unrepeatable moment, we can’t hold onto or contain God; however, God shows up on the scene, sometimes mysteriously, sometimes clearly. God invites us to be in God and to keep opening ourselves up to God in other people in ways that change and transform us.

When you first met online… your profiles were a 99% match. Wow! As you began to get to know each other, you learned that you share not only big values (like equity and caring and generosity and openness) but you share the same “nerdy interests”—Star Wars, Star Trek, strategy board games, Renaissance Festival, Marvel Universe, and... as you got to know each other even better through travels and experiences you’ve shared over the past years, you’ve found someone whose faith you lean on, whose gentleness, patience, caring and strength of character help you to articulate what you need and help you become who you are and who you want to become. Not only that… but both of your circles have expanded as you’ve been welcomed into a really diverse and inclusive friends’ circle, where people express their choices and are supported in them… your circles have grown as you’ve been welcomed by each other’s families… You’ve not only found each other but a bigger community who nurtures you.

When we met recently, one of you mentioned Fr. Greg Boyle, and so I found myself reading article after article by Fr. Greg. He works with gang members in L.A., anyone who wants belonging, anyone who wants to live… in several of these stories that I read, Fr. Greg talked about taking rival gang members on plane trips with him, because when you have a brand new experience together it can bring you together.

In one of these trips, two of them, Mario and Bobby, told their stories to a crowd of maybe 1000 college students.
Here’s’ how Fr. Greg told this story—
Nervous, hands and voices shaking, they told their stories of violence, terror and abuse of all kinds. Honest to God, their words were like flames; you had to keep your distance or get scorched.
I asked Bobby and Mario to join me for the question-and-answer period. A woman near the front spoke first. “You say you’re a father,” she said to Mario, “and your son and daughter are starting to reach their teenage years. “What advice do you give them?” She sat, and Mario sifted her words, looking for a response. “I just…”
Standing next to him, I could feel his effort to complete his thought. He clutched the microphone and teared up, stretching his arm toward the woman as if he were pleading with her. “I just, I just don’t want my kids to turn out to be like me.”
The woman stood again. Now it was her turn to cry. “You are loving, you are kind,” she said, steadying herself. “I hope your kids turn out to be like you.”
There wasn’t much of a pause before the audience stood and began to clap. All Mario could do was hold his face in his hands. A lanky, tattooed gang member revealed his wounds in front of a thousand strangers, who lost the temptation to despise him and recognized themselves in his brokenness. Suddenly, kinship — an exquisite mutuality.

Today, you two, Nathan and Elizabeth, stand and will declare that you are family—an exquisite mutuality. Today, we’ll notice how strangers can become friends, and how—just like the words we heard in Psalm 32, God’s love is all about transparency, forgiveness, authenticity… those qualities that you have been practicing up to this day and those practices that will sustain you into the future.

Many of you, all the most devoted fans, I trust have by now seen the most recent Star Wars film—The Last Jedi—and so it’s no spoiler, I hope, to quote Rose Tico, “We’re going to win… not by fighting what we hate, but by saving what we love!”

Saving what we love… and in the many things I read by Fr. Greg, he said over and over again in different ways that we can’t actually save others and probably shouldn’t try, but we can savor life with them—and in that way, we save each other.
This is the calling that we celebrate today at your wedding—“finding kinship. The point of Christian service… is about “our common calling to delight in one another.”

As Jesus arrived on the scene for the very first time, people were asking, “Who are you? Who are you? Of course I went straight to Hamilton: Ooh, who is this kid? What’s he gonna do?[1]
As the gospel of John tells the story, one of the very first things that Jesus did was change water to wine (the best wine!) at a wedding. Jesus savored life with people in such a different way than they were used to that it was life-changing. This is our prayer for you—that the love you share today will deepen and grow as you delight in one another, looking to Jesus, the guest and the host at the feast that we savor today at your wedding. That the blessing that Jesus provides will never run dry but will sustain you at every table, through life’s joys and sorrows. That you will know on this eve of the new year how you are embraced by a whole community of people who celebrate our shared calling to be family.

To all that we say, “thanks and yes!”

[1] Hamilton Lyrics:, Accessed 12/28/2017

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Begin again—seek good that you may live

Amos – Advent One

Amos is a shepherd, called by God unexpectedly to prophesy.
He calls out all the injustices in the communities of Israel and all surrounding communities…
These are the kinds of things that were going on—they:
·       Carried into exile whole communities
·       Did not remember the covenant of kinship
·       Pursued brother with the sword & cast off all pity
·       Maintained anger perpetually & kept wrath forever
·       Ripped open pregnant women and burned the bones of their enemies
·       Rejected the law of the LORD… being led astray by lies
·       Trampled the poor & commanded the prophets not to prophesy…

God has tried to change people’s hearts through various warnings…
Like in Amos 4:6
I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities (not about dental hygiene in this case), and lack of bread in all your places,
yet you did not return to me…
God has tried to change people’s hearts through harsh consequences –
Drought, plagues and punishments… “Yet, you did not return to me, says the LORD.”

12 Therefore, God says through the prophet Amos…   Prepare to meet your God!
13 For lo, the one who forms the mountains, creates the wind, reveals his thoughts to mortals,
makes the morning darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth— the Lord, the God of hosts, is his name! 
8 The one who made the Pleiades (the eighties) and Orion, and turns deep darkness into the morning, and darkens the day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea, and pours them out on the surface of the earth, the LORD is his name, 9 who makes destruction flash out against the strong, so that destruction comes upon the fortress. 
10 You hate the one who protests, and you abhor the one who speaks the truth. 
11 Therefore, because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain,
you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them;
you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine. 
12 For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins—
you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate. 
13 Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time; for it is an evil time. 
14 Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you,
   just as you have said. 
15 Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the public square;
it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. 

Finally Amos draws on an abundant water image… in 5:24 “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
Alas for those who are at ease in Zion, and for those who feel secure…  the revelry of the loungers shall pass away. After this message,
The king threatens Amos – he has to stop this prophesy business – but Amos says, “I’m not even a prophet. I’m a shepherd and an arborist… but God took me and said “Go, prophesy! So hear the word of the LORD.”

Hear this, you that trample on the needy,
   and bring to ruin the poor of the land…the Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of your deeds.
The book ends saying that God will not utterly destroy God’s people… there will be a remnant left… but that will include those who seek good, not comfort for themselves, but who in an ongoing way love God and love their neighbor.
Seek good. What does that mean? … We could look to another prophet, Micah.
God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? [Micah 6:8]
As you look around in your daily life, where do you see the LORD – like a lion – roaring for justice?

I don’t know how many of you have been to the part of the world where Amos lived… I have been there twice, so I’ve seen first-hand the dependence on water. We are dependent on water, too… but in the land of 10,000 lakes, it might not feel as pressing. If you haven’t been in a place yourself like that, maybe you can think of the programs you’ve watched—maybe a Planet Earth special where all the creatures are buried underground, in semi-permanent hibernation, until finally the water flows over them and creatures hatch and are born and complete their whole life cycle while the floods are present.

“For Amos’ hearers, who lived in a world in which drought and the absence of rain was an all-too-regular occurrence, the image of justice being like a torrent of water running down, as well as a constant stream of doing what is right, must have been compelling”[1]… but maybe we can glimpse it too.

What is the call to justice that seems pressing for you, or that needs ongoing work, generation to generation?

Seek good.
It does not seem easy to seek good on our own. Online, on the radio, on the TV, in our schools and work places, while gaming, while socializing… there are plenty of places to get more and more anxious and afraid. There are plenty of places in our lives that lead us to question and doubt, but there are a few places where we are invited over and over again to seek God, and life, and good.
If we have been the ones who are sleeping through our Sunday mornings in relative comfort, denying God’s existence & God’s voice while others are suffering, Amos calls us to wake up.
Amos calls us to
“mourning in a context of great injustice – to join in the pain and anguish we hear from #BlackLivesMatter, Indigenous leaders protecting water sources, refugees here and throughout the world, women and teens caught in trafficking, the gaping chasm between rich and poor that is growing bigger, deep concerns over access to health care, and many, many instances of violence and terror…
I wonder how in this Advent … you plan to seek God, seek life, seek good for others?
Week after week, and today, we are called to this table to share a meal with God… and the reason is so that as we take Christ’s gift, Christ’s own body into ourselves, we would become the body of God. It’s not just a metaphor. It’s science. You become what you eat. So, we become what we fill ourselves with… we’re called to the intentional work of seeking, of filling ourselves with God—of becoming good, life, love. God continues to believe it’s possible for us… Amos demands it.

I wonder, in this new season, how are we willing to begin again?

[1] Juliana Claassens, Commentary on Daniel 3,, Accessed 11/30/2017.
Professor of Old Testament, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa.