Love wins: Charlottesville, VA

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28    Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b      Romans 10:5-15

Matthew 14:22-33

 

 

Oh, how Joseph’s brothers hated that tattletale, the younger, “favorite” brother, who flaunted a fine coat and a dream about power over his siblings. Jealousy and hatred are powerful motivators, and it is through such a call to action that Joseph’s brothers conspired to kill him.

 

Their approach softened a bit and they threw Joseph into a pit, most likely a dry cistern, where his almost-certain death would come more slowly. The brothers’ response to their own act of hatred was to sit nearby and eat.

 

Hatred ignores facts: they were kin, brothers!

Hatred ignores humanity: how can you feast while letting your brother die?

 

We might say that at least life won, not in a generous way, but because the brothers instead sold Joseph into slavery for a few bits of silver.

 

In fact, Joseph’s dream did come true, and Joseph’s brothers bowed down to him. Eventually, however, forgiveness and healing happened. Oh, how long it took to see the presence of God in this family!

 

The psalmist tells the story … and also reminds us that a great many things happened – plague after plague, famines, hardened hearts …

Before there was food and water and the fulfillment of God’s promise of abundance.

 

Sometimes it takes a long time for us to be able to say, along with the psalmist: “Praise the Lord!”

 

We still wait, most days, to see the face of God.

 

Today is no exception to our waiting …

In Charlottesville, VA this weekend

Hatred is ignoring facts, humanity, and threatens to obscure the face of God.

A torch-bearing protester claimed that: “We’re honoring the founding fathers who were white.”

Only…

The founding fathers and mothers and families and children in this country were not white at all; they were of darker skin and an ancient history.

Hatred hates facts.

 

We are all created in God’s image, and simple children’s song says it well: “red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world.” Yes, Jesus loves the little children – all of us.

Hatred ignores humanity.

 

God, however, is not so easily obscured, and although you may be seeing pictures of a horrific act of hatred, there were others at the protest marching for peace. An assortment of clergy and lay people, Episcopalians included, marched arm and arm, side by side, proclaiming that “hate has no home here.”

And singing “this little light of mine.”

 

What a powerful light it is, the light that faces hatred

While Episcopalians and other counter protesters stayed in the church throughout the night – urged to do so for their own safety – in

In order to proclaim peace.

In order to live into the fact that Love wins.

 

Love wins in the face of hatred. Love wins in the face of violence. Love wins in the face of all that is evil in this world.

It sounds rather trite, doesn’t it? I saw, on video, the person fly over the car in Charlottesville, hit by the speeding car; I saw the empty shoes on the street; I heard the screams of the people: “we need a medic!”

And I saw hope in those same streets: people running toward the perpetrator, chasing down hatred on foot; people kneeling to help the injured, the screams that said “we need a medic!” were reaching out for kin, for humanity. Love was there in the darkness.

 

The mayor of Charlottesville said yesterday that “this day will not define us.” My friends, we are not defined by yesterday, either. We Christians are defined by a day

And it is not a day of darkness, but of resurrection and life.

 

Our day of definition is the day on which Christ destroyed death by his own death, by the empty tomb on Easter Day – that is the day that defines us,

Not yesterday in Charlottesville

Or any of the other days on which hatred shows its callous, violent face. Those days do not define us. God who created us and is still creating, who gives us life, is the one who defines our lives. God’s light will not be overcome by darkness. God’s light will not be overcome by citronella-filled tiki torches marching … anywhere. God’s light will not be overcome by cowards who promote their own false lights.

 

What do we have to do to get this kind of God in our lives – in a single day of our lives?

Maybe, like Peter, we have to go ahead and walk right into the storm, to step out of what we think is keeping us safe (because it really isn’t).

 

It is “usual” to pick on Peter a little bit here, to say that Peter began to sink when he took his eyes off of Jesus – ever heard that? I’ve probably preached it!

Today, that won’t work for me.

Because of Charlottesville.

Because of a woman who was so ashamed of her sins that she could not get out of bed for three days.

Because of many other days – and moments – that look like Charlottesville in our eyes, in our hearts, in our screams, aloud and silent, for mercy to come, for true light to shine. In brokenness so deep that we do not begin to know how to heal it.

 

Like Peter, we need to get out of the boat. We need to face the storm, knowing – or not knowing and acting anyway – and

reach out our hand. And our voices …

and say, “Lord, Jesus, save me!”

And it is done. The saving has once again begun. God is faithful. God is constant. God keeps God’s promises and God promised that we have abundant life in Jesus Christ.

 

Lord Jesus, save me!

Lord Jesus, save us!

 

Today I need to know that we haven’t failed when we feel like we’re sinking. We haven’t failed when we despair over hatred shouted in the streets with cowardly torches and remembrances of a history that didn’t exist and the powerlessness – yes, powerlessness – of the ones walking in hatred in the streets. I need to know that God, Jesus, will reach out the hand of Love

And save me.

 

Because our days are not defined by yesterday, or by hatred, or by sin.

 

Our days are defined by love.

 

This is a love so strong that both Jews and Gentiles could become Christians.

 

Imagine that.

 

Even a Gentile could become a Christian! That is the dispute in the letter of Romans – that we who never became Jewish, who might have worshipped any number of little “g” gods (some of those still lurk in our lives but that’s another story) –

Even we might be saved by the power of Jesus the Christ. Love wins.

 

Winn Collier, writing from Charlottesville, VA talked about the love this way:

 

“I am talking about a love that would stand with the oppressed while weeping for the oppressor. I am talking about a love that knows deep in the bones that if we don’t get to redemption together, then it isn’t redemption. I am talking about a love that sees in every single human a beloved sister or brother, a child, a parent, one who is more than their actions or ideologies, more than their fears.”

 

Stand with the oppressed. Weep for the oppressor. Pray for our enemies. Give thanks in all things. Get out of the boat and reach out to Jesus.

 

A beloved bishop wrote about an appropriate response to the hatred expressed in Charlottesville yesterday, to the hatred found in many yesterdays: “my bruised soul will seek healing at a different demonstration; a demonstration of love, hope and unity found at the altar, of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

 

Come protest with me today. Bring your bruised soul and demonstrate love, hope and unity at the altar, in the Eucharist,

 

In the very body of Love itself.

 

Hate has no home here.

 

Love, through the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the Holy Spirit, wins.

 

So come. Take Eat.

 

Save us, Lord Jesus. Have mercy, Lord, have mercy.

 

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Easter 3 2016: Peter, do you love me?

Lord Jesus Christ, transform your church.  Help us to know your voice, your presence, to have the courage to trust in you even when we think we know a better way.  Help us throw doubt “to the other side,” that we might be filled with You.  Help us, dear Lord, to build your church; release us from whatever may hold us back.  May our story with you be a love story in which we tend your sheep, and feed them, and know you in bread and wine.  In your gracious name, Amen.

 

It sounds like this prayer could have been written yesterday. In fact, I wrote and spoke this prayer with you three years ago. We are still filled with doubt, with concern about our “fishing abilities”, are filled with hunger to be fed by Jesus. At the same time, we are surrounded by good news. “Good news” sounds strange right now, I know. In a world filled with bombings and violence and hate-filled rhetoric, when many are starving for spiritual nourishment – we are surrounded by good news?

 

Yes, we are surrounded by good news. The good news started when God created (if not before). God is still creating. The good news started with the making of humankind in God’s image. We are still being created in that way. The good news started in Isaac being saved in a thicket, with the Israelite’s being brought out of slavery; and most especially in the birth, life, and resurrection of Jesus our Lord. We begin again in every moment and every day from the context of being part of the resurrection life of Jesus Christ. Part of resurrection life with Jesus the Christ.

 

Jesus will call us, as he called the disciples. Jesus will call us, make us “fishers of people,” as many times as it takes for us to answer “yes.” How many times was Peter called? We might say that Peter was called in Jesus’ transfiguration on that mountaintop; or just before Jesus said “get behind me Satan,” or when Jesus washed Peter’s feet. Peter was called to a deeper and enduring life with Jesus and Peter recognized Jesus in all of those moments. And then Peter betrayed Jesus, denied knowing him, not once but three times.

 

After the crucifixion …

After his resurrection …

Jesus’ response to Peter’s denials and the many tragedies of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion was … forgiveness. Jesus said: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” while he died on the cross. And in Jesus’ resurrection life he appeared to his disciples in that upper room and said: “Peace be with you.” Forgiveness. Peace.

 

Now the disciples have returned to their prior work, fishing, and this night it is not working. They have spent all night on the water and have not brought in a single fish. Those who have made their lives pulling fish out of the water sit all night and harvest nothing. Then they listen to Jesus: “Try the other side.” Listen to Jesus. Harvest. Bring in so many fish (153!) that the nets would usually break. With Jesus, the net holds. St. Peter’s in Henrietta is looking for those 153 fish, aren’t we? Jesus asks Peter in the boat and maybe St. Peter’s in Henrietta: “Do you love me?” Peter’s new life begins again in affirming Jesus three times. And however it is that Peter loves Jesus (we’ve talked about that before and we can study that again at another time), Jesus gives Peter a job to do.

 

Before the task is the belonging. No matter how many times we recognize or do not recognize or even deny our Lord Jesus, we belong to Jesus. We belong. Jesus never denies us or leaves us. We belong to Jesus. More than a symbol of belonging, this community of Jesus-followers called St. Peter’s Episcopal Church belongs to Jesus, is part of the Jesus movement in our towns, counties – in the world – today. Today! We belong.

 

Jesus says to Peter and to St. Peter’s: “Feed my sheep.” That’s our job: to feed Jesus’ sheep. “My” means all the sheep that need to be fed. We are called to feed the world, starting right here, spiritually and with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. We feed bodies through “Full Tummys.” We nourish souls through friendship, prayer, study, food, presence, laughter, sorrow, lawn care, opening our doors … how else? (Get some replies from the congregation.) These are the places in which Jesus appears and feeds us today. In here. On the beach. At school. At the food pantry. At bible study. Sunday School. Christian Ed. And in our hearts. We are nourished here ant sent out to feed the world, one person at a time. That’s all. One person. One friend. One stranger. One person in whom we might see a glimpse of Jesus.

 

The disciples, fishermen, “even though” they “knew better,” listened to Jesus, and did what they had done before in a new way, with a new perspective. We have that same opportunity every day. There are disappointments along the way. We “almost” had a renter last week. We “almost” received another grant. We have at times “almost” welcomed a new family. Be sure: St. Peter’s is not done fishing or praying or growing. The “almost” will happen again when we keep our eyes and ears and plans centered on Jesus. The “almost” will become “we have:” welcomed, rented, transformed. We are not a story of failure. The Christian story , of which we are a part, is a resurrections story, one that looks for a few days like failure and then bursts into the wildest, most unimaginable new life. We are a story and a people of second (and third and infinite) chances, of joy and abundance: joy in the risen Lord and abundance in the life that God longs to give us. We resurrection people.

 

Back to that task to which we are called: fishing.

Think for a minute about your vacation plans for this summer. You might have thought about them, dreamed about them, begun planning for them. Think about those plans.

Now:

What are your plans for Jesus this summer? Your “build up the body of Christ plans? How, wherever we might find ourselves on vacation or at work or school or … you tell me: how is listening to and being fed by Jesus a part of those plans. Envision those plans … make those plans. How will we respond to Jesus’ question: “Peter, do you love me?”

 

Listen to Jesus. Listen hard. Who would you like to know the belonging and the feeding that Jesus gives? Invite that person to your campsite for coffee. Invite someone else to a study; come yourself and be fed with the Word. Invite someone to a diocesan talk, workshop, ball game, or to your house for a meal. Invite someone to meet the risen Lord. He’s not hard to find – he is right alongside of us, fishing, cooking, in full sight wherever we are.

 

St. Peter’s, do you love Jesus?

 

Feed God’s sheep.

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Lent 4 2016: Rejoice!

Laetare Sunday

 

Check in for Lent:

Did you give up something? Add something? How is that going?

How can we, your faith community and family, help you keep your commitment in the next two weeks?

 

With the kids:

We just heard a story about a son/brother who ran away from home. (Did you ever want to run away? Tell us about that.)

 

God always loves us

Puzzle with missing pieces

Vs.

Whole, completed puzzle.

God keeps us, protects us, teaches us, counsels us, all while keeping us in God’s sight; we are protected.  For the faithful, for those who trust the Lord, and for the righteous, there is steadfast love.

What about the rest of us?  We love the Lord, but Lord, we just cannot get everything right: not right with ourselves or our families or our friends or in our giving or in our prayer; what hope do we have of getting things right with You?  And yet, you say “rejoice.”

 

Our parable in Luke

The problem with something so familiar is that we sometimes stop hearing it.

 

Because we have heard these words so many times, we may dismiss the parable with a quick “oh, I know that one.” But God’s word is living, alive!

 

the story:  There is a man with two sons and one begs for his inheritance while his father is still living.  This son squanders the money, loses it all (lottery and Vegas, we think), and comes home after a job of feeding pigs, to ask to be his father’s servant forever.  The older son is really mad.  We hear that the younger son messed up big time, repented, and came home.  The father (God) loves us so much that he threw a big party, gave his errant son the very best; welcomed his son with open arms.  How great is the mercy of God!  All is forgiven.  Rejoice.

 

The father runs to meet him.  Patriarchs do not run.  It is not honorable.  It just isn’t done.  The father runs – leaves the table and runs!  Remember: the son did not come home because he was sorry.  He came home because he was hungry.  It is the father who reaches out and breaks all the rules, breaks the honor code in so many ways, in order to reconcile with his son.

 

Do you hear the difference?  Repentance, or lack thereof, versus reconciliation.  The father risks his standing in the community, in his world, to reconcile with his son.  Rejoice.

 

We know that when we are righteous, God loves us.  The older brother in this parable shows us that truth.  We try hard, and God loves us.

 

The younger son shows us that even when we squander ourselves, our lives, God pursues us.  God loves us.  God cares nothing about who is supposed to get the best coat or the finest banquet.  God is going to show up anyway.  God will meet us.  But we have to want to come home.  We have to walk, finally, in the best way and the best direction that we can.  Even when we’re broke.  Even when we’re broken.  Even when we come home, into our Father’s arms, for the “wrong reason.”  However we get here, we are home.  We are protected.  We are loved beyond measure.  We are reconciled with our Lord.

Rejoice, my friends, rejoice.

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Lent 3 2016: Oh, our humanity!

Exodus 3:1-15     Psalm 63:1-8     1 Corinthians 10:1-13     Luke 13:1-9

It sounds like today’s psalm is the perfect response to Jesus’ lament over Jerusalem from last week. Remember the lament: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, … how often have I desired to gather your children…”. And an eloquent response:

O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

2So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.

3Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.

4So I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on your name.

5My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips

6when I think of you on my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night;

7for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.

8My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.

And then this happens. The next line, (conveniently) left out of our reading today, is this:

9But those who seek to destroy my life shall go down into the depths of the earth;

10they shall be given over to the power of the sword, they shall be prey for jackals.

 

So much for the exemplary nature of the psalm! The complete version might be a better example of our humanity than of our abiding piety.

 

Aren’t we like the psalmist, though? On Ash Wednesday we make an acknowledgment of the depth of our separateness from God. We declare our failures, our faults. We are determined to live in humility, to give up something of meaning for the next 40ish days.

 

We make it through Thursday: no candy, no soda; we crack the spine of our bible and dust it off. We leave the “given up” things in the cabinet and put the bible in a prominent place. So far, so good. “My flesh faints for you, Lord.”

 

On Friday we set the mail on top of the bible and we gaze at the cookies on the table at work. On Saturday we pop the top on that can of cola, take a long drink, and set the open can on top of the mail that is on top of the bible –

 

“May wild animals eat you if you point this out!” Right?

 

Jesus laments again over his precious Jerusalem, over you and I.

(If we really stretch what the psalmist is doing/saying, it is kind of like this: If we cannot live up to the things that we believe about ourselves [the longing and pining and fainting] and if you dare hurt me in some way [by pointing out our hypocrisy, perhaps], then – it’s you who must live in eternal punishment.)

My sins, my separation, we think, are at least not as bad as yours…

 

Right?

 

Yes, Jesus still laments over our failings, over our walking away from that which we said that we would do. HOWEVER, there is gospel – GOOD NEWS – in this story from Luke and in our Lenten journey.

 

Let’s talk about the fig tree. What did/didn’t it do? (Not bear fruit. Take up “good” soil. Nothing.) All true.

 

What else did it do, one positive thing: it held up the vines that were growing grapes. It held up that which was bearing fruit. What is a fig tree doing in a vineyard, anyway?

Pliny, an ancient writer,

The ancient farming manuals provide one answer.  It seems to have been a common practice to plant fig trees in vineyards to aid in the trellising of vines. In fact Pliny recommends that trees be used for growing grape viines since “high class wines can only be produced from vines on trees ” Pliny specifically mentions the fig tree as a preferred tree for use m trellising “The choicer wines,” he says, “are made from the grapes at the top of the trees.” (Pliny, Natural History pp.136-139)

 

Last week we talked about a barnyard; this week we are in a figurative vineyard – we can’t get away from the farm, can we? Anyway,

 

The farmer is not happy because the fig tree is not doing what it is supposed to do. It is not growing figs. We might not argue, after a bit of knowledge gained, that the fig tree is doing part of what it is supposed to do; it is living partly into its identity.

 

Are you with me? Can you draw a line to the fig tree and to ourselves? We are most likely living partly into the person and into the ministry to which God has called us. Does that make sense?

We are mothers, fathers, spouses, children, workers; we give and we worship and make food for others;

 

AND we are not failures because we drank some soda or left the bible on the table. We are not failures, ruining up good dirt that could be otherwise productive. Can you hear this? Because Jesus is still lamenting for us, is still with us, still loving us even as we get halfway through Lent and our walk to Jerusalem. Even then. Even now.

 

Because we are given another chance. The connection between bearing appropriate fruit and being cut down is not a direct line. (Sorry, psalmist.) There is room – there is room – for another chance. Let me work with this tree just a little bit more. Let me give it food, manure, water, and just the right kind of care. We’ll talk about this next year.

 

In the meantime, there is room for one more chance for a tree, for you, for me.

 

The work that the leaders of St. Peter’s are doing right now reminds me of this tree. Do not for one moment forget the wonderful fruit that St.Peter’s is holding up. Do not forget for one moment that Jesus is with us and loves us so much that there is always room for another chance.

 

The leadership (vestry) right now is working and praying and pondering what care it is, exactly, that St.-Peter’s-if it-were-a-fig-tree needs in order to bear the abundant fruit that it is meant to bear. We are meant to bear the love of Jesus Christ to others. We have that love in ourselves. And before you give up on whatever it is that you are doing or have not done for Lent, give yourself another chance. Try it again. Do it again. Jesus is with you.

 

Now, fortified with that love, ask what it is that St. Peter’s needs to be a growing community in sharing the love of Jesus Christ.

 

Every person here is part of that tending and of that care. We need your ideas, your passions, your hands and feet in service to our mission. Our mission is sharing the love of Jesus Christ in the way that we are called to do so. What is the shovel that you are called to pick up? Consider what it is that you are called to spread, or prune, or dig up. If you have been silent and silence is not your call, come forward and speak up; offer your gift. If you are silent and that is your call, then fill your silence with prayer and the powerful transformation that happens when we pray.

 

Come forward. Go and tell. Get strong and courageous in our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Lent 2 2016: On being vulnerable

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18     Psalm 27     Philippians 3:17-4:1     Luke 13:31-35

 

On being vulnerable – even uncomfortable – in Lent

Confident people, it is said, walk like this: with their arms behind their backs, their “full fronts” exposed. This is a posture of confidence and vulnerability. The posture says: “I’m not afraid of you … come here.” Or in a taunting way, “come and get me, if you dare.” Notice how many public figures we see in this open, vulnerable, inviting (taunting?) walk.

 

In the barnyard, when a hen gathers her brood, her breast is exposed in this same way. Her wings are protecting whoever huddles at her side. The fox must get to her, kill her, before it can get to those she protects. By the time the fox might kill the mother hen, the fox is full … the chicks are saved.

 

This is the imagery of lament that Jesus gives us – that he is so sorrowful for the people that he loves that he longs to take this stance of protection, to put himself in harm’s way – the fox’s way – in order to save those he loves.

 

Can you imagine such love?

 

His reply to Herod is a taunt. “Tell that fox;” in other words, I know exactly the sort of cunning mind that Herod has and I am not going to fall for it. Tell Herod that I will spend a few days here (that’s the today, tomorrow, and the day after that reference), and then I’ll be on my way. Come and get me if you dare. Herod will not “come and get Jesus today;” Jesus is far too popular for such an open attack. “Getting” Jesus will take far more cunning … and must take place outside of Jerusalem. No matter what, the scriptures will be fulfilled.

 

Try this with me. Stand up if you will. First, protect yourself (arms in, hugging oneself). How does that feel? To me – pretty safe. Now stretch out your arms, open them – and be open not only to God but to whatever might come your way. Curl your arms to your sides and protect your brood. How does that feel? Good? Vulnerable? Way too open and scary? (You may sit down.)

 

Jesus gives us the gift of protecting arms (brood),

Then open arms … on the cross.

 

Imagine that love. A protection that says “get me first” …

 

And the world did.

 

It is that love the we are trying to connect with in Lent. The love that said

I will be tempted and I will not give in to anything except God.

Jesus did not perform magic.

Jesus did not submit to the allure of food for his famished body, power for his human ego, safety for his human heart and soul.

Jesus submitted only to God.

 

In that light – Jesus is still the light of our world and THE world:

How is Lent going for you? What is it that you have given to our Father?

 

How about giving a few minutes of time for some prayer, extra prayer?

Maybe you are giving up sweets, or soda

Or feeling bad about yourself

Or hatred for someone else

Or indifference

Or whatever it is that keeps you from knowing the kind of love that Jesus offers. Give up whatever it is that keeps you from the love of Christ

 

Because there is nothing that keeps Jesus from loving us. Nothing. Chest open, arms around, then arms outstretched …

 

We are on the journey from protection to wide open vulnerability.

 

I invite you to the vulnerability of Jesus the Christ.

Jesus will protect you. (And me)

We are asked for forty days – less than that now – to give up something delightful, to ponder our humanity and our separation from that love

 

ONLY

 

In order that we will know that love forever.

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Lent 1 2016: I wonder … a holy Lent

Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16; Romans 10:8b-13; Luke 4:1-13

 Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return …

The action of putting a cross of ashes on our heads is a powerful one.  Immediately following a reading that tells us not to parade our piety in the public square, we make our faith very public with a cross of dark ashes on our foreheads.  For some, perhaps, this visible sign of our faith is simply a display. For those who have knelt in silence before an altar and humbled themselves to the stark remembrance that we are all dust, it is not a display. The ashes are a stark reminder of our humanity, and the we are nothing without God. The full scripture reference is important: “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them. Do not practice your faith “in order to be seen by others.” Our faith might have us take on practices that happen in front of others – what matters is that our focus is on God, not on our own visibility. Focus on God. So that we may be seen or praised or noticed, that is not piety, but the display against which we are warned. We practice our faith, our piety, for God.

 

I hope that we find hope in that cross of ashes, hope in the visibility and humility of wearing a smudge of dirt on our heads … hope in seeing that same cross of humility, of humanity, on others’ heads.  We are so arrogant sometimes:  we think that we can do anything and that we have no need of God.  We are so lost at other times, thinking that possessions, wealth in money, cars, and status are important.  We are lost, wondering if others have the same doubts that we have … if we have nothing without God, then where is God TODAY?  Why can a life in Christ feel so … alone?  That smudge of a cross might have let us know that others are on this same path; we share a kinship of faith with all of its joys and all of its questions, doubts, and sorrows. Thanks be to God for that visible sign of practicing our faith. May we journey faithfully together in our Lenten time.

 

We call Lent “desert time” as we remember that Jesus went into the desert for forty days and was tempted by the devil. What a confrontation we witness today! The devil offered Jesus power, food, authority, and glory. How could Jesus resist all of that? Bread (sustenance) after a forty day fast, a kingdom after 40 days in the wilderness, literal guardian angels?  Jesus could have stretched out his arms and done all that the devil said for him to do.

 

Instead, in God’s time of redeeming humanity’s horrible brokenness, Jesus will stretch out his arms on a cross.  There is no need for Jesus to give in to the devil.  All that Jesus has within him is from God, IS God.  God always wins.  Love itself always wins, in God’s time. We pray that God’s will be done … on earth as it is in heaven. God’s will, and that is one powerful prayer. There is no need for us to argue with the devil, but to declare and to implore that God’s will be done.

 

There is a need for us to recognize when the devil is speaking, and how not to submit to temptations of power, of excess, of glory to self instead of to God. And so we welcome Lent into our lives with some measure of study, prayer, and self-examination. We ask for eyes that see and ears that hear the wiles of evil in the world around us, that we might avoid their temptations.

 

This is our time to experience the desert, not only in eyes that recognize evil, but with hearts that desire simplicity. Imagine spending a few minutes each day without a cell phone, computer, television or radio. Recognize our need to be almost consistently entertained and engaged; ask God to take away that addiction on all that is “other” from God and from good. Shut off the electronics for a portion of every day during Lent. Imagine taking the time to ask God to strip away all of the things that distract our minds: the office work that we have to do, the telephone calls to return, bills to pay, groceries to bring home. Ask God to take these concerns away for a few minutes each day. Set aside worry for a few minutes each day during Lent.

 

When we go into “the desert” in this way, distractions set aside, it opens up time for us to discern the word and presence of God, to hear God’s message to us.  Be courageous and vulnerable in asking God to be present to us.  Be prepared to feel empty without our favorite distractions and excesses. Be willing to have God be what fills that emptiness.  We have this Lenten “set aside” time to empty ourselves, to fill ourselves with the presence of God, to prepare to meet Jesus, arms outstretched, not on the mountain, but on the cross.

 

Our Lenten invitation is to the observance (practice?) of a holy time: self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and denial, and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.

 

We might wonder what all of that means. Remember, we are practicing our faith; our practice will not be perfect, and we do these things for God, not others. Ask what it is that God would have you do …

Notice: “self-examination and repentance” does not stand alone. We do those things, that looking at ourselves and turning toward Jesus in order that “the whole congregation” is put in the mind of “pardon and absolution.” We do not think on our separateness from God in order to feel bad or to condemn one another, but to receive God’s forgiveness and wholeness through Jesus Christ. And we are all meant to be thinking about forgiving ourselves and one another, even those “most notorious” in their sins.

 

Prayer: I wonder what would happen if every one of us prayed every day. The Lord’s prayer. Or the simplest of prayers: “Maranatha,” “come, Lord Jesus.” Or simpler: “God, help.” Practice praying every day.

 

Fasting and self-denial; these practices go together. When we put our electronics down, we are fasting from constant stimulation; we are denying ourselves the idea that we need to available to everyone, all the time. We are fasting from our own perceived self-importance, or from feeling that we must, indeed, be “on call” all the time. We do not. Turning off the TV is a fast. Not eating is a fast. Not talking about other people – gossiping – is a fast. I encourage you to fast from something this Lent. Fasting is a reminder that we are nothing without – not all of those other things – but without God. “You are dust and to dust you shall return.”

Reading and meditating on God’s holy word. That sounds like a tall order, doesn’t it? It might be, but only because reading and meditating on God’s word changes us! What if we meditated for the next forty days on the shortest verse in the bible? “Jesus wept.” Pray that verse this Lent. Meditate only that verse if you “don’t have time” for anything else. “Jesus wept,” with all of its questions and nuances, will change your life.

 

Remember whose we are, who created and gifted us with everything that we have. We are caretakers, human, beloved, embraced, loved, holy children of God.

 

I invite you to a holy Lent.

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Easter 2016: Alleluia!

“Alleluia! Christ is risen!

(The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!)

 

We have just proclaimed the truth of our faith. We have embellished it over the centuries, but our core truth is the resurrected Christ.

Paul writes about it this way: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead.”

It’s a simple story, really. There’s nothing there – in Jesus’ tomb, that is, the one that held his body just a few days ago. Just as the gospel of John’s birth story doesn’t make for a very good pageant, none of the gospels give us much for an Easter show. Maybe they do ….

 

We who rest our faith on an empty tomb are hearkened back to other emptiness: primordial chaos before God created:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, and darkness hovered over the deep.

 

Formless, empty, dark.

 

It is John who tells us this beginning:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.

 

Today we have a whole new beginning. It begins in the darkness, where the tomb is empty except for some left behind (formless) burial cloths. In the beginning … of a wonderful new life. All of earth is transformed by the risen Christ. Some find Jesus in empty places; some are quietly puzzled about Jesus’ truth; others see Jesus when he calls them by name.

 

If you are here for the first time, welcome! The risen Lord greets you and loves you.

If you are here after not being here or in any place of worship for a while, welcome! The risen Lord greets you and loves you.

If you are unsure of what you believe or where you belong, welcome! The risen Lord greets you and loves you.

To all: welcome to new life, to life with the risen Jesus Christ who makes all things new.

 

Really? There are still bombings, you say.

Yes, there is.

There are still murders and injustices and oppression and poverty,

Yes, yes, there are. The fullness of God’s kingdom isn’t here yet, is it? That doesn’t mean that God’s kingdom will never come. Today know that God’s kingdom is still possible, still happening, still being created. And to say that that fullness of God’s kingdom is not here does not mean that God’s kingdom is completely absent.

 

Martin Luther once said, “When you read in the gospel or hear it read that Jesus Christ comes here or goest there, that he heals the sick and raises the dead and forgives sins, you are to understand that he is coming here, that he is forgiving you and raising you from the dead, and healing you.”

 

When Jesus heals, he is healing you, every sickness from those of our bodies to those of our hearts, to those we have carried through our generations.

When Jesus raises the dead, he is raising everything that is dead within you that you can have new and abundant life. New life. Abundant life.

When Jesus is forgiving sins, he is forgiving everything in you that separates you from Jesus. Everything. You are forgiven.

 

It is no wonder that the tomb is empty, that we do not see Jesus’ stumbling into the light as Lazarus did. Jesus IS the light, and nothing will contain the love that he is. There is nothing that will hold back God’s love, certainly nothing as meager as the limits of human minds and earthly boulders or death.

 

Here we are, friends – celebrating an empty place that no longer contains our Lord. Our job is to worship, to run to find him, as the disciples did. Even then, it is not we who tell the rest of the story. It is God who writes the story, who often brings Jesus to us in ways that we do not recognize. Even in those unlikely places, Jesus calls us by name. We are his. We, like Mary, are now sent out, rejoicing in meeting the risen Lord.

 

He is risen! Alleluia! Amen.

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