Christmas 1c: Regifting

Isaiah 61:10-62:3     Psalm 147:13-21     Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7     John 1:1-18

 

Tabernacling … and regifting

 

It is a huge leap from baby Jesus in the manger to “in the beginning was the Word. It has been said that might be a season of twelve days because we need that long to make sense of God who comes to us in the form of a person in a manger. I suspect that I am not alone in thinking that it will take much longer than twelve days for to get my head around “Lord” in a feed trough. So far, it has been a lifetime’s work.

 

And just when we might decide to dwell in the mystery of “God with us,” Immanuel, in Bethlehem, we discover the Gospel of John. John tells us nothing about mangers or shepherds or Bethlehem, Mary, and Joseph. All of a sudden, or so it seems, we are transported back to before the beginning of time – and we find that Jesus was there. Before there was time, before there was “Earth,” before we had ancestors, there was Jesus with God. What a wonderful mystery!

 

It is still hard to imagine, isn’t it?  So we keep reading.

 

This Word, Immanuel, God with us before we were, came to live among us. Not only in our individual hearts – the verbs here are plural – the Word came to “tabernacle” with us. You remember the idea of tabernacling in from Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain. Our beloved Peter, upon seeing Jesus and Moses and Elijah, says, “let’s tabernacle here!” Let’s stay here in a big tent, and stay long enough that it is not a vacation or a visit but this place becomes our dwelling place. Let’s dwell here.

 

The tabernacle in the Old Testament was the local presence [hangout] of God. (http://www.sermonsfromseattle.com/series_b_the_word_became_flesh.htm) Thanks to “Sermons from Seattle” for these words and the following imagery. The tabernacle was 75 feet wide and 150 feet high. (What size is this church building? About the same, maybe.) Imagine a tent that big. At the far end of the tent

 

“was the Holy of Holies, a room separated by a heavy curtain. (I think of a grand theater curtain, lined with embroidered pomegranates.) Behind that  heavy curtain was the Ark of the Covenant, a special holy box. It was a big box, about 45 inches long, by 27” by 27.” Inside that Ark or box were the Ten Commandments and maybe a bit of manna.  Now, this was the most sacred place where God lived: in the tabernacle, in the Holy of Holies, in the Ark, and most sacredly, in the Ten Commandments.”

 

Not anymore. With Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, the place to see the living God is in the person, the flesh, the body, the heart, the mind, of Jesus. To find the best image of God, do not look to the stars. Or to waterfalls. Or rainbows, or whatever other, truly magnificent evidences of God that we may find. Evidences of God are found in many magnificent – grand or minute – things, but to really find God, to visit the place God dwells, God is to be found in the person of Jesus. In Jesus is where God lives. And that is not a stationary, unmoving place, is it?

 

At this point, we might say: “thanks be to God for Mary, Joseph, Bethlehem, and baby Jesus in the manger.” John is way too complicated.

 

You know by now that there is good news and more good news. God is in the stars, as maker and creator of an ongoing creation. God is not finished with us yet – with the stars, with the planets, and with us. God is found in the miracle of every infant, every baby, every person. Maybe that is why God came to us as a baby: so that we could see the miracle, recognize the miracle, and throughout our lives – not in just twelve days – come to see the miracle of God incarnate, Immanuel, Jesus.

 

In the meantime, that baby needs a minimum of food, clothing, and shelter.

How do we feed Jesus?

By caring “for the least of these;” by feeding the hungry with good food, food being produce and the creations that God has given us, and feeding spiritual hunger with the word and truth of God.

By keeping the word/Word of God alive in ourselves and in our corporate body by reading, studying, and meditating on God’s Holy Scriptures.

We feed the entirety of our personhood by feeding on that which God has given us.

 

How do we clothe Jesus?

By clothing the naked in garments made of fiber and spiritual garments made by the body of Christ.

 

How do we shelter Jesus?

By welcoming Jesus into our homes – this home of St. Peter’s and the holy homes that have nothing to do with this building. We shelter Jesus by saying “welcome” over and over again, until all feel at home “tabernacle-ing” with Jesus.

 

When we have fed, clothed, and sheltered Jesus, Immanuel, we have something else to do with our precious gift. We “re-gift” Jesus into the world. The “regifting” of Jesus has nothing to do with our gift being the wrong size, the wrong shape, or something unwanted. This gift that we have harbored, dwelled with, must be shared,

Because a light cannot be hidden.

Because we find so much joy in dwelling with this gift that we could not possible keep it to ourselves.

Because this gift is light and grace and truth, and how would we live into that fullness all on our own? We do not. We cannot not.

 

This Christmas and beyond, in what we say and do and live, we give Jesus to the world, that the world might become God’s kingdom.

 

And although in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God,

I invite you back to manger,

Because maybe we can make it to the manger,

To meet the Christ-child,

To pick him up and talk with him and sing with him and hold him and stay there for a moment,

And then, like a joyful parent or relative or neighbor and friend,

We share Jesus,

God,

Because we know God and hold God and dwell with God,

We share God with the world.

 

Merry Christmas! The Lord is come!

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Christmas Eve 2015: Receiving a gift

Isaiah 9:2-7     Psalm 96     Titus 2:11-14     Luke 2:1-20

 

Receiving a gift

 

It’s here! With the lighting of four counting candles and a single white one, it is here. Christmas, Christ’s mass, is here. Christ is born.

 

With a single lighted candle we proclaim that Jesus is born. Christ has come. All that is needed to turn the deepest darkness into light – hope – is the flicker of one small flame. The candle, one burning light destroys the dark forever. Where there were shadows there is light. Fear not! Said the angels to the shepherds.  Fear not – I bring good news of great joy!

 

Of course, there is much more than one candle here tonight. You are here – welcome! We have beautiful flowers, freshly washed linens, lots of candle light, special music, ourselves, families, friends – Merry Christmas! With thankful and joyful hearts we our love for Jesus and our praise to God in an abundant celebration. We know tonight that the world is different.

 

We heard from Isaiah tonight and we might not be too connected with that story. Isaiah writes that “the people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light.” Isaiah is referring to a time of great trouble and oppression and at that time, God saved God’s people. That act of saving is “the light.” The great light is God doing for God’s people what we cannot do for ourselves. It was a time of great mystery and joy.

 

Tonight, too, is a time of great mystery and joy. We might hear the words “in those days” and settle in; here comes a familiar story. We let the words float around us. Maybe we are hearing those words for the first time. Let the words float around you, settle onto you like a comfortable blanket. “We bring tidings of great joy!” There it is again. Joy. Maybe we are hearing “in those days,” those long-ago words and we are thinking that it is late and we are tired and we wish that our little ones would stop wiggling and that we could go to sleep. They will, and you will because tonight God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Tonight God gives us a gift. That gift is Love Itself, and it comes wrapped in poverty, joy, fear, and mystery. Love is that flickering candle. Love is Jesus.

 

… wrapped in poverty. Jesus does not come to us as a mighty warrior. We might have expected that. Jesus comes to us in a way that each one of us can recognize him, for he comes to us as a baby, in a place no one is turned away. We are all there: shepherds, rulers, dirt, sheep. When there is no room, there is room for one more.  There is room for you and for me. In a world in which we strive for the biggest, the best, the fastest, the most, we receive everything in a newborn child.

 

One light.

One child.

One gift.

 

The angels are singing with joy and we respond in fear. Angels, you see, are messengers, and up to this point, they generally bring us a message from God. That message up until now has required that we do something. In order to complete the angel’s bidding, Zechariah, father of John the baptizer, had to be quiet and name his son John. To do the angel’s bidding, Joseph had to take Mary as his wife and not turn her away. Mary had to bear God’s son. Tonight when the angels appeared to the shepherd’s, what did they have to do?

Not be afraid.

The shepherds were told not to be afraid. After that, they took it upon themselves to go to Bethlehem. Who could resist such wonderful news?

 

I wonder if it’s like that for us. We, like the shepherds, are given great news. We choose how to respond; I am glad that tonight you made the journey to welcome Jesus, the Christ child. In being here tonight, you – we – have received (and will continue to receive) God’s greatest gift, which is God, showing up for us as a human being, given God to the world in a gentle, unobtrusive, humble way.

 

One light.

One child.

One gift.

 

How many of us have purchased gifts in the last month or so – week or so – day or so? We wrap them, maybe mail them, put them under a tree. Whatever we have done, we have obtained a gift, wrapped it up, and given it away.

 

Tonight, however, the world is different, and God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Tonight God gives us a gift in a little town, in a far away place, and in our hearts right here in Henrietta. Tonight’s gift is love and whether we are aware of it or not, it is just what we have been waiting for! While the world has been counting shopping days and shipping days we have been counting Advent days and preparing … for the best gift ever in the whole world. It is here. Welcome, Jesus.

 

Our journey that has brought us to Jesus will take us many places. For a few hours, though, dwell in the gift of Jesus Christ. Be quiet. Sing OUT LOUD! Smile. Give thanks. What matters tonight is that you are here. Receive this wonderful gift. As there is always room for us at that manger, you are making room for Jesus in your heart.

 

Brother James Koester, SSJE, says it this way:

It doesn’t matter that our lives, or our families or world are not perfect. What matters is that we make a space, no matter how small, for God in our hearts. When we do that, God will do the rest, and Christ will once more be born in the Bethlehem of our lives and the mangers of our hearts.

 

Blessed, holy, joyful, merry Christmas.

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Advent 1 Year C: Come, Lord Jesus!

Jeremiah 33:14-16     Psalm 25:1-9     1 Thessalonians 3:9-13     Luke 21:25-36

 

 

[What is it that you are most waiting for … and how will you wait this year?]

 

Several days ago many of us gathered with friends and family and offered thanks to God for everything that we have.  Later that same day, thousands of people driving to a shopping mall got stuck in a two hour traffic jam on a major highway.  Everyone, it seems, was headed to “the mall.” You know the one. It is the mall where “everything” was on sale.  People waited two hours to get to a parking lot in order to search for a perfect parking space so that they could wait in line for the perfect gift for – for what?

 

Such frenzy begs the question: what is it that we are waiting for? What is it that we are MOST waiting for? A parking space, a perfect present, an acceptable present for someone we never see … for forgiveness, joy, delight, or a few hours of escape?

 

We will find none of the most important things at a mall. Forgiveness, joy, delight, and relationship are not things that we can pluck off of a tree or off of a shelf. I say these things while knowing that I have been shopping on line, in stores, and thinking very hard about how to make Christmas very, very good, for me and for those I love.

 

Before Christmas comes another whole season; you might imagine that I had a plan for that season for me and for my family.  I was going to give the perfect Advent season to my family. There were gifts: calendars, candy, cute and sarcastic cocktail napkins: it was a ready made Advent for everyone! I left it all on my table at home while I traveled three hundred miles away from that table.

 

That’s my confession, and there is good news for all of us in our preparations for every season. There is always room to fail. Advent does not depend on my gift buying, wrapping, stacking, or taking. Advent is here anyway – and that is great news! Begin again! In a completely imperfect world, where else except in Jesus Christ do we get to begin again, in every day and every moment? Today, Advent is here, and so we begin a new day and a new year. Happy new year!  We can be thankful for the newness, the “beginning again” part of today. You see, you and I cannot make – or gift – the perfect anything. We cannot make a perfect Advent happen, but we can still have Advent.

 

In fact, in a frenetic, imperfect world, we need the church season of Advent. This is our chance to savor a season of waiting. How well would you have waited in that two hour traffic snarl in order to buy the latest widget or toy?

 

Advent is a chance to ask some deep questions. What is it that we are waiting for – that we are MOST waiting for?

 

How is it that we will wait?

 

These questions are the work of Advent. We can answer them individually, and I invite all of us to do so. What is it that you are waiting for? Presents, a Christmas tree, or a bit of contentment, reconciliation, peace. Advent is our time to wait for and to find Jesus. For which Jesus will we wait?

 

There is baby Jesus in the manger

Or the child Jesus about whom we know almost nothing.

There is healing Jesus,

Eating with the unclean Jesus,

The threat to the Roman Empire Jesus,

The life-giving Jesus,

And the one on the cross.

And the Jesus who is here

And who will come again to perfect the world.

 

Who is it that you are waiting for – welcoming – preparing for – making room for?

 

None of them is safe.

Jesus in the manger was hunted down by Herod.

The child Jesus stayed in the temple – self-identified as his father’s house – while his family traveled home.

Healing Jesus broke the rules and healed on the Sabbath,

Jesus quite often broke written and unwritten rules of behavior, propriety, religious and Roman law,

None of which was safe.

 

And then … and then Jesus, God on earth, conquered death. Saved the world. Redeemed it. Made us holy. We were given perfection and have been saved by that gift of love.

 

We are holy today in the gift of Jesus. That love is worthy of a short season of waiting, of holiness.

 

We have a choice, every day. Me, too, in case you’re wondering. Who is it, what is it, that we are waiting for?

We choose to wait for Jesus,

The Jesus who turns our world upside down no matter which Jesus we find. When we find Jesus we realize that it is us who have been waiting to be found, and that unsafe, turned-our-world-upside-down Jesus makes the world better.

This is Jesus,

The one who is always with us,

Who never deserts us,

Who understands what is means to be hungry, lonely, confused, sad, happy, joyful, full of life, walking with death, and leaning on God.  That’s the Jesus we are waiting for. We will find him in a manger, in our hearts, and when he comes again to redeem the whole world.

 

How, then, will we wait? What will our imperfect waiting look like? We have many choices.

As a community, we will count down each week in the ever-increasing light of Christ. Candle by candle, we count. The light in the world gets ever brighter until the star rests and Jesus shows up, the baby, the king. This community will prepare in worship, traditions, Advent education time, in making liturgical space for baby Jesus. Advent is an exciting time!

 

We will do none of this perfectly. The manger might be in a different place, the candles lit in a different manner, the songs – some familiar, some new. Embrace whatever it is that we do. Join in. Bring your hearts, your prayers, ourselves. Find Jesus, prepare for Jesus all over again. If you can take time for just one deep breath in an “out of church” frenzied season, then take that one breath in the coming weeks.

 

Advent is a time of holy-making, of sanctification, and the holiness comes from God. God makes us holy, honors what we do in making room for Jesus. If it is only one breath, and maybe and imperfect “more” of something, we are making room for Jesus. We are making room for Jesus during this expectant season of Advent, and we are making ourselves available to have Jesus with us forever.

 

We do not make this journey alone. There are over two BILLION Christian worldwide who take this same faith walk. We might think that we are just a bit different, weird, even, in lighting purple candles, waiting expectantly, asking those tough questions … but there are two billion others of us asking those same questions:

 

What is it that we are waiting for?

How is it, in what manner, we will wait?

 

In addition to those other two billion people, there is one more part of creation making this journey through Advent.

 

Jesus already made this journey to a stable and to the cross. Jesus is with us now. Our Christian paradox is that:

 

We are waiting expectantly for that first earthly journey

And for the one that is yet to come.

 

Advent is our joyful journey. At the same time that it is a journey of deep reflection and prayer.

 

I invite you to a holy, joyful, questioning, discerning, imperfect Advent.

 

We will our Lord again, in light, in perfection, in a rugged, holy manger.

 

Come, Lord Jesus!

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Proper 29b 2015: The living kingdom

2 Samuel 23:1-7     Psalm 132:1-13     Revelation 1:4b-8     John 18:33-37

 

Today is the last Sunday of the “green season,” the growing season after Pentecost, and on this day we honor Jesus as our king.  Jesus is king and ruler of an empire that has no physical place.  A kingdom with no physical place is hard for us to imagine.  We live in within a particular family unit, in a house or apartment, in a neighborhood or a building.  We often define our lives with a strong connection, tether, if you will, to physical things.  If you are not so sure about this, tell me: which pew is “yours?”  (Aha!)  We are a people with a preference for physical domains.

 

We enter the gospel of John today in a very physical place – the headquarters of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate.  Jesus is on trial.  In a confusing transfer of information, Jesus says: “My kingdom is not of this world…. My kingdom is not from here.”  Pilate asked him: “so you are a king?”  Jesus:  “You say that I am.”  Jesus does not take ownership of a land-bearing kingdom, and in so doing becomes a king like no other king we might ever have known.  Kingdoms, you see, define space, hold it in:  Pilate was “responsible for” a certain area; it had borders and even some walls.  We could walk it or measure it or count Pilate’s area of control in some way.  The emperor Caesar’s kingdom was vast, but countable.  Earthly kingdoms “draw a line” to their inhabitants.  They are largely inward-looking, holding, defining.

 

Jesus’ kingdom is the kingdom of God and of the Spirit.  God’s kingdom looks not inward but outward.  It has no walls, no borders, no boundaries.  God’s kingdom stretches our minds, our faith, and our beliefs.  Is Jesus our king?  Yes, Jesus is our king in God’s kingdom.  And what a kingdom it is!  Jesus came to this kingdom, he tells us, to testify to the truth.  At this point in the gospel the truth has not yet been revealed or fulfilled.  Jesus is still taking that horrific, glorious walk.  Jesus risen from the dead is Truth.  But we’re not there yet, are we?  In the gospel and in our lives, our walk to truth is not yet complete.  But if we can for a moment today look forward to the fulfillment of Truth and then look back at where we are right now, there is a message.  I’ll tell it in a story.

 

One Easter morning a couple spoke to their priest following the Easter service. They said they had lived “down the street” for years and had never worshipped at the church before that morning. They continued by saying that though they had not worshipped before they were always grateful that the church was here. Very carefully, as you can imagine, the priest asked, “Why?” “Why are you grateful that the church is here?” Their answer was this: “Each day it reminds us that there is something more.”  And the couple returned to their home. http://www.goodpreacher.com/shareit/readreviews.php?cat=50

 

Sometimes – maybe all of time – the church is here to remind us that there is something more: something more than what we hear in the news, than what we find at Wegman’s, than the report that came home from school, than the mouse droppings that we found in our cupboard.  There is always something more.  That “something” is Jesus Christ our king, one with God and the Holy Spirit who governs and holds authority over everything.  Everything.  There is always something more than us.

 

Can you imagine?  No, and I cannot imagine, either, and at the same time I am thankful for that very kingdom.  There are no robes, no coronation garments, no glory, but there is hope more vast than our minds can fathom.  It is a hope that is built on a God who loved so much that God watched God’s Son suffer and die on a cross.  Can you imagine that love?  That same God loved us so very much that God’s son came back to life and lives with us now.  Today.  Forever.  The hope that we have, embodied in our Triune God, is that we will live forever, in a world ruled by God, in a world in which death itself has been conquered.

There is love in this kingdom that will conquer the world’s hatred, ignorance, and fear.  Love lives.  And that kingdom is on its way.  We are walking toward it every day.  And every so often, that kingdom breaks into our world, and we know again that Jesus is with us, that God’s kingdom is real.

 

Many of us have heard the ongoing reports – will they every end? – that Christianity is on the decline, religion is on the decline, that no one comes to church anymore ….  You’ve heard the words, right?  I challenge those words here today.  This is a fine time to be a Christian and a great time to be in the Episcopal church.  In spite of whatever reports we’ve read or heard, we are gathered in a church this morning.  Imagine that!  In this weekend, the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester will have ordained three new persons into the priesthood.  Each of these new priests has voluntarily sought to serve in this church – in this denomination – and in the community of Christian faith.  They are entering that same church that news reports say isn’t really here.  World?  We’re here.  We believe in God, we believe in Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit, and in Jesus Christ who says:

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”  That kingship is not dead.  We declare it, we live it, and we welcome all who seek Truth.

 

Come along for the ride, for the walk, for the realization of the living kingdom of God. Amen!

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Proper 27b 2015: Do not be alarmed

Ruth 3:1-5, 4:13-17 Psalm 127 Hebrews 9:24-28 Mark 12:38-44

The stones will all be thrown down.

With gospels words such as these, it is tempting to say that the stones of the temple, of our faith, will be thrown down, as in: the temple will be destroyed. Our faith will be torn apart. It certainly seems that way. This week we watch the news and hear about
 Bombings in Beirut – terrorist attacks;
 Murders in Paris – again, terrorist attacks; and
 An earthquake in Japan, a natural disaster.

Jesus says: do not be alarmed. Over and over the messengers of God say to the human condition: do not be afraid. Today, maybe especially today, we need to hear: do not be alarmed. Do not be afraid.

The stones that are thrown down will all be built up again. By God. By Jesus. In fact, it has already been done. Jesus Christ died and he rose from the dead, and in so doing, he built the temple, our faith, not in stone but in Jesus Christ. Jesus the Christ lives today. On that we build our faith.

We honor and pray for all who are suffering, and we especially remember victims and their families in Beirut, in Paris, in Japan. Pray with me [silence].
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Yesterday was an important day in the life of St. Peter’s. Our convention delegates and I (Patty Gillett, Mary Holley, and Patti Sanderson) Allison Bourne, and Susan Woodhouse, attended and worked at the 84th Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester. In this way we connected to the Councils of the church (universal) throughout history. We might consider the first council of the church to be the one in Jerusalem at which Peter, our namesake, spoke – and ticked off a whole lot of people. We could call this the apostles’ council. The first official council was held at the direction of the Roman Emperor Constantine in approximately 325 – a very long time ago. Our Diocesan convention is our real and historic connection to the first Christians, to the apostles, to the witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus the Christ. This is our church! We give thanks.
Today is an important day in the life of St. Peter’s. Three years ago, the day after the 81st Diocesan Convention of the Diocese of Rochester, we worshipped together for the first time. From this pulpit I recalled several things:

My call to St. Peter’s came in the middle of a hurricane. We postponed in-depth conversation about coming here until the storm in another place had passed. The immediate and urgent need was for water, power, and God’s mercy. I arrived here not long after a storm named Sandy that made a big impact in this part of the country. Our history began in many ways, with many stories, including stories of storms, tragedy, aftermath, and God’s mercy. As I stood here three years ago today, I had a new home, a new parish community, and house that contained one suitcase, a couple of boxes, and two bewildered cats. My belongings would arrive later in the week. Storms pass. God’s mercy is always present. I give thanks for ministry here, for coming home, for the Holy Spirit-filled community that calls itself St. Peter’s. Together, we give thanks.

Today is an important day in the life of St. Peter’s. Today is the day that we have chosen to gather our pledges of time, talent, and treasure for the coming year. We don’t like to talk about money in church, do we? It just “isn’t done.” Well, yes, it is done. We are called to talk about everything and anything in this community of God’s beloved children. Even how stressed we are. How hard it is to come to church. How exhausted we are. How sad we are that we cannot get our children/grandchildren – fill in your own woe – to come to church. To all of these anxieties we turn to Jesus who says: do not be alarmed. And to the angels who so very often say: do not be afraid.

Do not be afraid.
In fact, be filled with joy. Give thanks.

The Lord who rebuilt the temple is, in fact, building our house.

The Lord is building our house. The Lord established the church; we are but caretakers of that church. It is not just any house that we are building. In fact, we are not building a house of wood, or of bricks and mortar. We are building a house of faith. Jesus Christ our risen Lord and Savior is its cornerstone and its foundation. How appropriate that St. Peter’s, “on this rock I will build my house” St. Peter’s, is still today in this place a house of faith. We have a call on our lives and on our church. It is a call to faith and joy in all things.

ALL things. Storms. Hardship. New beginnings. And pledges of our time, talent, and treasure. What is it that we will give?

I ask that we each make an offering in heartfelt thanksgiving for our lives and for the abundance that we have. If you have not yet talked to God about this, I invite you to do so. Ask God: “What is it, God, that you would have me give?” Give that, in time, in prayer, in your financial offering to this church. Remember that we give NOT because God needs our money – God doesn’t need our money – but because giving is part of our spiritual life and growth. Give until you feel joy. From personal experience, joyful giving is scary, even a little unnerving. It is also something that will transform your life. Give until there is joy, until you spend a moment thinking “what else can I give,” not because you want to but because there is a nagging voice in your head that says that this is how we live in Christ. Giving. It will change your life.

Today is an important day in the future of St. Peter’s. Because today (and every day) we get to begin again. How will we live into our life with Christ? I invite us to join with Christ in a life of prayer, of asking tough questions, of responding to the agonies of the world with the knowledge that we are called not to despair but to joy.
Do not be alarmed.
Do not be afraid.
Be thankful – joyful!
Give with joy.
Give thanks in all things.
Gracious Lord, build your house at St. Peter’s, in our communities, and in all the world. And,
to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be the glory, now and forever.

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Proper 24b 2015: Thank goodness … for that

Job 38:1-7 Psalm 104:1-9, 25, 37c Hebrews 5:1-10 Mark 10:35-45
This is one of the weeks that we have been anticipating. This is the week when Job is told, in no uncertain terms, that God is God and that Job and we are not. There is verbal imagery:
“who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb? – when I made the clouds its garments and thick darkness its swaddling bands…”.
There are God’s challenges to Job:
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Have you commanded the morning since its days began, and caused the dawn to know its place?”
“Declare, if you know all this,” says God. “Declare.”

We cannot so declare. We know that we are not Job – and probably have figured out that we do not want Job’s problems. Ours are enough, more than enough. We don’t want friends like Job’s. And we do not want to think that are lives are tested quite so extensively from some (bizarre) set-up between God and Satan.

Thank goodness, we might think, that God has not answered our prayers, our challenges to God, like that.

James and John stand up to God, through Jesus. They want to go into battle with Jesus and sit in military might on his left and right flank of armored soldiers. They want to go with Jesus into Jerusalem “in [his] glory,” in military splendor. They want to sit on Jesus’ left and right sides at the victory banquet (now – or in heaven?). How surprised the disciples will be at the mockery of a parade in which they will enter Jerusalem, and at the “coming true” of the events that Jesus foretells. There will be two people at Jesus’ side, one to the left and one to the right, criminals, when Jesus enters into glory. Jesus enters into glory from the cross. Thank goodness, we might think, that God has not answered our requests and prayers to God, like that.

This story is the third time in the gospel of Mark that Jesus has foretold his death and resurrection. This is the third time that the disciples have not understood – they do not see – what is going on. This is the third time that Jesus has told the disciples how it is we are to live, to be, in light of what happens to Jesus/the Son of Man.

“Whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; whoever loses his life … shall save it (8:35).” “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all (9:35)… .” “Whoever wishes to become great … shall be your servant” and “Whoever wishes to be first … shall be slave of all.”

(This note by Narry Santos is helpful:
Three related instances of verbal paradox in the Gospel of Mark include 8:35 (“whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it” and “whoever loses his life . . . shall save it”); 9:35 (“If any one wants to be first, he shall be last of all”); and 10:43-44 (“whoever wishes to become great . . . shall be your servant” and “whoever wishes to be first . . . shall be slave of all”). These statements occur within the context of Jesus’ three Passion predictions (8:31; 9:30-31; 10:32-34), the disciples’ misunderstanding of His passion predictions (8:32; 9:32; 10:35-41), and the ensuing three discipleship discourses of Jesus (8:34-9:1; 9:35-50; 10:42-45).
Jesus’ Paradoxical Teaching in Mk, BlBLlOTHECA SACRA 157 (January-March 2000) 15-25)

The words “it is not so among you,” then, are not about doing but about a way of being. We are called to be transformed (lose our life), to be servants, to be last, even to be slaves, in the transformation of ourselves that comes about by following Jesus. Tough words to hear and to live by. And yet there is good news in Jesus’ words.

We are freed in these words. Freed? Free.
We are free from any pretense that we can do the things that God can do. Our end of the day worries can be handed over to God so that we can sleep well. It is folly to think that we could hold, let alone handle, all of our worries, anyway. Give them to God. Rest well. Those worries are not for you to hold onto, anyway.

We are freed in Jesus’ words; freed from living like the rest of the world. We are not the rest of the world. We are here, together, in worship, in discipline and in discipleship. We are here in the presence of what will become the body and blood of Christ; even right now we are that body. It is not always easy to be; sometimes it is a true challenge to be here, and it is against what culture tells us to do. There is courage in showing up. There is courage in being Christ’s body. There is freedom; we don’t have to live like the rest of the world does.

We are free from having to be the best, have the best, strive for the best, because we have it already in the abundance that we have received from God, and in our lives with our Savior Jesus Christ. Of course our lives will be different. We are being transformed by our master. We have the freedom to say “God isn’t finished with me yet,” and we can say that when everything we know has been taken from us (Job) and when we know that we are walking with Jesus (the disciples).

What we don’t know, and what the disciples did not know, is what the walk with and the following of Jesus will look like. God’s mercy comes in ways we cannot begin to expect. Thank goodness, and thanks be to God, for that.

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Proper 23b 2015: The Way

Job 23:1-9, 16-17 Psalm 22:1-15 Hebrews 4:12-16 Mark 10:17-31
The man was on a journey, “the way,” meaning he was a follower, or joined the followers of Jesus. He was on “the way.” Like others we have heard about, this man knelt before Jesus; kneeling is a posture of humility of self and respect toward Jesus. His question was not one aimed at tricking Jesus. The man doesn’t mean to make a mistake when he calls Jesus “good teacher,” but Jesus comes back to him with words of correction: only God is good. Although the words sound a bit harsh here, we’ve heard Jesus take this action before. Jesus turns our attention away from himself and toward God. Look to God, it is through God that goodness comes … not law, not action, not, as the man says “whatever can I DO,” but that all things come from the goodness and mercy of God. Once again, even when we are on “the way,” even when we kneel in just the right way, address Jesus in an appropriate manner, everything good is of God.

Jesus frames his next, difficult words in the context of God’s love for us. Jesus looks at the man and loves him. Jesus looks at each one of us and first loves us, no matter what. There is no one better to look at us in love. As the writer of the book of Hebrews shares: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” We are reminded of God’s deep love for us, from our Lord who endured the cross. We are not alone in any suffering. We are loved. But how hard it is for us to hear the next words: “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have riches in heaven; then, come follow me.”

The man is a good man; we have encountered him on his path to follow Jesus. The man was obedient to the law; he did many things “right.” Jesus looks at the man, looks at us, and sees so much more than the words of law. It is not the man’s possessions that are bad, but the man’s devotion to them; his many possessions are unwieldy. Jesus knows our hearts, and so hefty were those possessions that they were blocking the man from his walk with Jesus. Mark tells us that the ruler had many possessions. He couldn’t leave his “stuff” in order to follow Jesus. We notice that the man was not grieved because he could not follow Jesus, but “because he had many possessions.” The man was grieved about his “stuff” instead of his life, his eternal life that could come through Jesus. That is one understanding of this story. The man was counting on something that we might call “not Jesus.”

Our task becomes to ask ourselves the question what it is we are holding on to, counting on, devoted to, that is not Jesus. I’d like to go home and clean a closet. Find a homeless person, make a meal for someone else. Give something away. And I still might be missing the message.

Think about Job, who wanted to argue his case before the Lord. This is Job-who-lost-everything Job:
3Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his dwelling! 4I would lay my case before him, and fill my mouth with arguments. 5I would learn what he would answer me, and understand what he would say to me. 6Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No; but he would give heed to me. 7There an upright person could reason with him, and I should be acquitted forever by my judge.

We will be reminded of God’s answer to Job in a few weeks, but I will say that Job is left with holy mystery and a deep knowledge that God is God and we are not.

We are asked again to turn ourselves to God’s grace, to rid ourselves of whatever it might be that stops us from taking our own walk with Jesus. We are not the unnamed man in Mark, we are not Job, not Peter, but are who God uniquely created us to be.

We ask ourselves the tough question about what it is that might be keeping us from following Jesus fully, more completely. We (presumably) pay attention to our physical well-being and the measures of the world (did I pay my taxes, follow the traffic laws). We are also called to pay attention to our spiritual health. In looking after our spiritual health we recognize that we can be rich in faith, love, hope, generosity, and hospitality, as many of us are. Jesus looks on us “with love” and tells us how best to attend to our spiritual riches, how best to get rid of that which is blocking us from Jesus.

And our earthly riches – wealth, money? [And in the United States, we are wealthy almost beyond measure in comparison to world wealth, health, and money.] With our earthly riches, let the Holy Spirit enter in and set those riches on fire for the work of our Lord. Come, Holy Spirit, and set our hearts on fire! That is what Jesus asks of us: that we worship what is meant to be worshipped, and that we follow him, our path to the riches of our God in heaven. Amen! (With me: Amen!)

Here is our challenge, to look at our spiritual health. In baby steps as a congregation, we are doing this work with intention. Your brothers and sisters along “the way” need your help and participation. Let none of us walk alone. Pray for St. Peter’s and its place on “the way” with Jesus. Pray every day. Talk with one another about the story of your faith – how did you get here, what keeps you here, what brings you joy? Do more of what brings you joy in Jesus. How many participated in the race event last week (show of hands)? See? What a great day – and a celebration of our life together. We have stories to share … of God, of faith, of losing faith, of coming home. Help one another come home to joy in our Lord. We are sharing such stories in our bible study; we are sharing faith stories in Daughters of the King, at coffee hour, at community breakfast, in pulling weeds, by showing up and being present to one another in the old words of our confession: in thought, word, and deed. We are the body of Christ in this time and place.

Our presiding bishop-elect Michael Curry brings to us contemporary words to this ancient movement called “the way.” He says: “This is God’s movement and we are part of it, the Jesus movement. We are moving and living on the power of God’s love, and nothing can stop the power of God’s love.”

We are invited to God’s movement, the way, the Jesus movement. Let our journeys not be a secret, our joy not contained. Let go of what is “not Jesus,” and Holy Spirit, come, set our hearts on fire!

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