Sunday, June 10, 2018

Sermon: Seeing Sins, Full of Forgiveness

The Psalmist writes:
“If you were to keep watch over sins, O LORD, who could stand?
Yet with you is forgiveness, in order that you may be honored.”
So much is captured in these two verses:
That despite our best efforts, our sins, big and small
—that we are captive to Sin itself
—is plain for God to see
that Sin does not have the last word, but instead God’s grace, mercy, and love is ever before us!
That when we recognize these two realities together
—Law and Gospel encountering each other
—we are left in a state of fearful/awe by it
—left honoring God!
Let us pray

“If you were to keep watch over sins, O LORD, who could stand?”
Before you, we would be naked, O LORD, exposed at our worst, and even our best, brought low.
We would, in vain, hide ourselves from God, holding tight to any camouflage we could find, but at the end of the day, we would still be (TV show)naked and afraid.

It’s an unpleasant thing, it is a common fear, being exposed. 

In fact, one of the most common stress dreams people have is being exposed
—who hasn’t woke up in a cold sweat after dreaming you are:
-naked at work,
-or unprepared for a test,
-or unable to get into your locker
-or your sermon notes
where did they go, and look, it’s a full house, and the bishop is in the congregation, and they didn’tknow I was the preacher
and where are my sermon notes?
Right?

We hate being naked, being exposed, 
we seek to hide our sins and our imperfections, both real and imagined,
we try to hide what is inside, for surely, we think, we are unworthy.

Did you know Eunice Kennedy Shriver, sister to Bobby Kennedy and JFK, has a portrait in the National Portrait Gallery in DC, the first portrait there of someone who was neither First Lady nor President. 
She was one of the founders of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, not to mention a founder of the Special Olympics—the 50thanniversary of which is next month. 
She was declared Sportsman of the year, received a Presidential Medal of Freedom, and a Papal Knighthood.
I bring all this up, because, for her, that was all a kind of camouflage—she told her family that none of it mattered—she knew she could never be enoughunless she ranfor something—for political office… and she never did.

And our society is steeped in that kind of thinking…
as the confirmation students and I talk about when looking at the 10 commandments, advertisementsuse this fear of exposure, of not being enough, to potent effect,
advertisements use this human fear to turn TVs into idol making machines
—insisting you aren’t enough unless
unlessyou buy this soap,
unlessyou purchase this life insurance,
unlessyour car runs on this oil or you run on this coffee and eat at this burger place… 
The average American is exposed to an hour and ten minutesof being told they are not enough each day
8 hours and 10 minutes a week of ads, of being told to create little idols of your imagination,
told that you need to hide yourself because you are not enough!
It is enoughto make you try to hide in the woods from the very face of God.

Or, perhaps, like that weird chain of blame
—Adam blames Eve, Eve blames the Snake, the Snake… has no fingers to point to someone else…
perhaps it makes us want to point to someone else,
to scapegoat until we get to someone without arms to point the finger and pass the buck
… perhaps being exposed before God and the World makes us shout out a new slogan: 
“The Buck stops anywhere, but here!”
And Ads are not just Idol making machines, they are also Coveting Machines.
Not only do they tell you that you are not enough, they also tell us there are people who areenough
—those happy smiley people purchasing their products.
Soon enough you resent your neighbor,
you measure yourself against your neighbor,
you blame and shame and harm your neighbor.
Wasn’t that the trap Eunice Kennedy Shriver fell into? She measured herself by her assassinated brothers
—such impossible shoes to fill.

“If you were to keep watch over sins, O LORD, who could stand?
Yet with you is forgiveness…”
Do not lose heart, my siblings.
God’s grace continues to expand, it reaches more and more people each day
—maybe youeven need to be reminded of God’s grace, today… 
The world may shout If/Then, If/Then, If/Then…
Ifyou get the right look, thenyou are off the hook.
Ifyou run for political office, thenyou are worthy of love and respect. 
But it is not so here among us… 
The world may say If/Then, but our God is a Because/Therefore God!
Confirmands, today you are confirming your baptism… that God has acted first in your life… confirming that freeing truth that:
BecauseGod has named you and claimed you, Thereforeyou are beloved children of God!

This re-centers everything! We are no longer naked and exposed, but always clothed in Christ!
The buck doesstop here, becauseit stopped with that most perfect of scapegoats, outside the gates of Jerusalem, at the cross,
in the person of Jesus Christ,
our Lord!
Therefore, we can live out, together, what it truly means to be Christ’s family
—look really quickly with me at Mark 3:32-35.
It talks about brothers and mothers and sisters… what’s missing? is does not mention fathers. 
That’s no accident, Jesus wasn’t being forgetful there
—in fact, no one is ever described as father in Jesus’ community, save the one Jesus calls Abba, Father
—Our Father in Heaven. 
That’s because when God is Father, we can all be community in a way that we can’t if we’re always trying to figure out who is on top.

In that way, I suppose Christian Community is a little like participating in a Tough Mudder race
—you know those intense marathons with crazy obstacles, like swimming in a dumpster chilled with 75,000 pounds of ice, and crawling under live electrical wires
crazy stuff
—so crazy that winningsimply means getting through
it has nothing to do with beating anyone else’s time… it is designed so you can’t even get through, without working together… 
It's the difference between playing a cooperative board game like Pandemic, where all the players are seeking a similar goal—everyone wins or everyone loses, instead of a game like Sorryor Monopoly, with only one winner. 

Or to use a much older metaphor, Hell is everyone tied together by the hand with a bowl of porridge in the center fighting tooth and nail for a bite, everyone starving,
heaven is the same scenario, except everyone is feeding one another
… so too Christian community.
And Kenneth, Keith, Amy
—please know this is our ideal here, you are equal with any one of us, you are part of this family here—you are our mother, brother, and sister, our sibling and friend—we’re all in it together.

“If you were to keep watch over sins, O LORD, who could stand?
Yet with you is forgiveness, in order that you may be honored.”
Siblings in Christ, we ARE grounded in God’s grace!
We ARE made right by God,
we ARE reconciled with our neighbor…we ARE forgiven!
Let us honor God and give God thanks and praise.
Let us give thanks for our confirmands today, Amy, Keith, and Kenneth.
For the 20 years of ministry that God breathed into Cross of Life in Plainfield—our neighbors whose congregation is closing today,
for God’s ongoing faithfulness,
for God’s steadfast love and plenteous redemption, 
for Jesus taking us on as siblings,
for love of our neighbor,
for God’s love for us!
Thank God that Jesus lifted me!
A+A

Sunday, June 03, 2018

Sabbath 2018

Sabbath 2018



What is the Sabbath? It consists of Worship, Rest, and Liberation.

         Sabbath is for Worship.
         Surely there are other obligations, other enjoyments as well, that you could partake in today. But, by saying noto those things, you are unmasking them as potential idols,
as created things that attempt to seduce us into a routine that tries to go ‘round the Creator and colonize our life with a mono-culture of monotony,
it doesn’t allow us to look up for a moment and reflect, and say “Oh, Wow!”
         Along those same lines, Worship is not just showing up.
         Luther was once walking to church to prepare for worship and he came across a peasant who overindulged the night before and woke up in a pig trough cuddled up against a sow, so hung over he couldn’t make it to church to hear the Word of God
—and seeing this Luther reflected, 
“and yetthose who come to worship and neither learn nor retain the promises of Christ are no better off.”
They too have broken the sabbath. 
-Or to put it another way, sitting in a pew no more makes you a Christian than sitting in a garage makes you a car.
         Worshipping together, keeping Sabbath through worship, breaks up our routine of work work work, or even, if we’re a luckier sort, work, play, work, play… so that we can find an opportunity to inject Holiness into our weekly cycle through public worship
… This worship is holy because:
 we Gather amongst God’s Holy People,
hear God’s HolyWord,
Receive God’s HolySacraments,
and through song and prayer praise God, who is Holy
… I know I’m preaching to the choir, being that you all are here, but it is worth noting, by being here fully present, you are doing something good and holy.
         
         Sabbath is for Rest.
We live in a 24/7 culture…
-The average American works a month of overtime each year.
-Globalization has caused many people to have to be awake for meetings across a plethora of time zones.
-Thanks to smart phones we’re always available, and expected to respond immediately.
-News is no longer consumed by morning paper and 5pm around the TV, but with breaking news every few moments, buzzing in our pockets until we become no different from Pavlov’s dog that salivated every time it heard a bell. (Pavlov’s cat)
Think about it… it used to be you knew if someone was an American because when you asked them, “How are you doing?” they would respond, “Fine, thanks.”Instead of talking about their physical maladies and emotional ups and downs, like they do in the rest of the world.
But now, our response is typically, “I’m busy, but what else is new?”
Busyness is how our culture measures worth. (Preacher, heal thyself)
But a Sabbath’s rest tells us something else. We’re both moreand lessimportant than we think.
-On one hand, God delights in us not because of what we produce, but because he declares us good! We are more than we produce.
-On the other hand, guess what, the world will turn without you for a day
rest, take time to let there be a day that simply is Good… for nothing.

Sabbath is for Liberation.
As in Jesus’ day, there is a danger to the Sabbath. We might be seduced into saying, “I went to Church, and I rested… so what, if I didn’t let those around me do the same.”
But it cannot be so. Essential to Sabbath is a leveling of all people
—didn’t you notice in scripture Sabbath included slaves and sojourners (immigrant) and even critters! As Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “Sabbath suspends our subtle and not so subtle ways of dominating one another—when a Walmart cashier and a bank president are both lying on a picnic blanket at the park, you can’t tell them apart.”…Sabbath must be for everyone, or it is for no one.
We’ve been freed and called to open our eyes for opportunities to love, to go out of our way to liberate others as a response to the restful righteousness given to us by God.

Sabbath is for Liberation, Rest, and Worship.
And that raises the question how can we do Sabbath here today, things are a little different than they were in Moses’ time, and Jesus’ time, and even the 1990’s?
         Here are a few potential Sabbath practices:

Sabbath is for All:
-The Church can not be an inward-looking club with unspoken rules that make it awkward for outsiders to hear God’s Holy promises.
-A couple of you give rides to people who no longer can get to worship on their own—thank God for that.
-Here is a simple, but challenging one—invite people to worship!
-Go to your calendar app on your phone and make sure Sunday is the firstday of the week, that reminds us that Sabbath is a gift, not some sort of reward for a grueling week of work—it is Grace in time.
-Practice personal blue laws—remember those, Blue Laws, everything closed on Sunday so everyone was welcome to practice Sabbath. For example, I don’t buy anything on Amazon on Thursday or Friday, so the carrier won’t have to deliver packages on Saturday or Sunday.
-Once a week look at the world around you with Sabbath eyes, part of God’s holy time is spending time in acts of kindness and justice.

Also, these days, Sabbath will be fluid:
-In our society plenty of people have to decide between keeping Sabbath or keeping their job. We need to do church in a way that God’s people, Word, and sacraments are available to folk in these situations too.
-Similarly, those of you who have to make this choice should try to take mini-sabbaths.
So you find out on Tuesday the computer algorithm that decides when you work, has you off from Wednesday evening to Thursday afternoon. Block out a few hours in that time and rest, read a little bible, notice the needs of your neighbor.
-One simple way to slow down the world, is to shut off our screens, to take one day a week to simply not go on social media, or put away our smart devices, or evenavoid allscreens.

Those are just a few ideas, but I’ve given all of you two “Sabbath” cards, parodies of “Get out of Jail Free” cards.
 I encourage you to use them in the coming weeks to explore and experiment with ways of practicing sabbath.
Do this so that you might notice more fully that the Lord of the Sabbath has drawn near to you. 
That Jesus,
the center of our worship,
the one in whom we rest,
the Lord who has liberated us from all foes
—is right there, waiting for you to take the time to look up and notice, to be held by the holy time that is Sabbath. A+A

Sunday, May 27, 2018

A Trinity Sermon

         St. Augustine once wrote, “It is a rare soul who knows what he’s talking about when speaking of the Trinity.”
         So, I suppose I’m in dangerous water here… but I think it is safe to say that we Christians have experienced God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit—three distinct persons, and yet we still affirm that we are monotheists, that, in fact, we worship the same God as our Jewish siblings, the same God who has been faithful since people where first full of faith.

         The tension we find between the Godhead and the individual persons of the Trinity—between God the transcendent one whose name we ought not even utter, and God imminent seeking relationship with us at every turn, closer to us than our jugular vein—it is a big part of the mystery of the Trinity.
         We gathered together today, naming just such a tension:
         “To be in the Presence of Almighty God is to be lost, shouting with unclean lips “Holy! Holy! Holy!”
And yet Christ is our brother, the Spirit has made us Children of God, and we can cry “Abba! Father”
God transcendent and God imminent.

Prayer
“To be in the Presence of Almighty God is to be lost, shouting with unclean lips “Holy! Holy! Holy!”
         There is a horrible strangeness to an unmediated experience of the divine… 
-Ezekiel is left panting with post-traumatic stress and visions that would make an LSD trip seem tame… 
-Job is enveloped by a whirlwind and finds himself repenting of repentance, mourning the very act of mourning, using ashes to indicate ashes are of no help. 
-Luther reads the first five books of the Old Testament carefully and realizes that the only time Moses actually encounters God full on, God is mooning him. 
-In the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis describes the lion Aslan, who represents Jesus Christ, saying, “He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion,” and “Safe? Who said anything about safe, of course he isn’t safe, but he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” 
And of course, in “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark” when people come face to face with the glory of God—God’s transcendence—the are melted into little puddles of goo.

         And today we read of Isaiah’s call story, he finds himself in the presence of God—he looks up to see the very face of God, and looks up… and up… and up and can not look that high.
         Isaiah can only see the hem of God’s robe, this magnificent thing that fills the whole of the temple, this garment so great that it has neither beginning nor end.
         And surrounding God’s throne are these Seraphim—that is flaming things—angelic beings swooping around the throne of God literally burningwith God’s holiness.
         Not only are they aflame with God’s holiness, they are singing too of that holiness—that Holy Otherness of God, the total difference between God and the world, practically singing, “Different, Different, Different Lord God Almighty.”
         The gap between Creator and creation, the tension between Redeemer and redeemed, the force between Sanctifier and sanctified shakes the very foundations of the temple!
         The Prophet is overawed by God, struck by his own smallness, the difference between him and God there before him—he sees his own uncleanliness and realizes in a overwhelming way, he is lost.
         Then those fiery angels burn away his impurities and brand his lips, marking him and setting him apart, so that they might speak God’s word to his people…
         And today, we end with the words, “Send me!”
         Yet, Prophets have been marked, have been changed, have been brought into the holiness in a way that puts them… or at least their message… on the other side of some invisible line—When Isaiah goes and preaches to the people, every world he speaks comes out as alien, as strange, as so different from their experience they can neither hear nor heed it—his calls to repent cause them to sin still more, everything he says, the people who hear him do the opposite…
         And eventually, when Mark, and John, and Jesus’ whole crew are reflecting upon what the heck happened in their life those three years with Jesus—when they write the Gospel, they do so holding Isaiah’s words in their heart—the people did not hear Isaiah’s holiness, and so too the people in the Apostle’s time could not hear or see Jesus for who he was—they were all blinded by the holy presence of God among us, Jesus Christ.

         This otherness of God is important—I know it doesn’t give us warm fuzzies, but 
-we humans are idol makers, and we so easily confuse created as creator, 
- we can so easily baptize actions and ideas as from God that are in fact godless—what arrogance!
-we want to be told that we can grasp utter certainty, because then we can use that certainty to beat down anyone who doesn’t think like us or look like us or act like us—what hubris!
-we wish to believe we can see as God sees, in total, yet we only see in part.
         God’s imminence can protect us from this idolatry:
“To be in the Presence of Almighty God is to be lost, shouting with unclean lips “Holy! Holy! Holy!”

And yet Christ is our brother, the Spirit has made us Children of God, and we can cry “Abba! Father”
         Yet God the Father is our creator, the Father has provided all that is good and nourishing for us, sustains the order of the universe and our place in it, and with open hands calls us to be co-creators in this world we inhabit, truly we may call out Abba, Father.
         Yet God the Son is our redeemer, Jesus has dwelled among us, acted as a loving relative, freeing us from enslavement to any created thing, all that is his is ours and all that is ours is his, that we might live as he lives!
         Yet God the Spirit is our sanctifier, the Spirit gives us faith, the adoption papers signed by God’s grace, the Spirit connects us to believers of this and every time, forgiving us daily for our sin!
         The love of God, the immediacy, the intimacy, the imminence of God, God closer than we can ever know, and yet… we know… that too is so important in a world such as ours.
Christ is our brother, the Spirit has made us Children of God, and we can cry “Abba! Father”


“To be in the Presence of Almighty God is to be lost, shouting with unclean lips “Holy! Holy! Holy!”
And yet Christ is our brother, the Spirit has made us Children of God, and we can cry “Abba! Father”
A+A

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Pentecost 2018


          Do you not know that your mere presence here gives a testimony
—that you are a Christian at all, points to the Holy Spirit, for it is by the Spirit alone that you have heard the Gospel in such a way that it has brought you to faith.
          Many a Christian has described their own faith life, and relationship to worship as,
“Some days I don’t know if I go to church because I believe, or so that I can believe.”
After all it is here that we are again confronted by the Word of God:
The Word of God that works as a Mirror, showing us our sins; as a Window, allowing us to see our society more clearly; and as a Love Letter, wooing us with words of passion, truth, and love…
          Yet, this Word of God must be accompanied by the Holy Spirit
—for it must be heard with ears of faith, otherwise it can sound like an idle tale, like finger nails on a blackboard, like a tale told by drunks—as Peter and his crew are accused of at Pentecost.
Truly, when the Word of God and the Spirit of God come together something powerful happens,
we are killed and made alive,
Sin’s reign in our hearts and in the machinations of all humanity, are exposed to the healing light of God’s love! Death itself dies that resurrection can occur. That is the power of the Spirit—she allows us to trust the love of God found in Christ Jesus.
         
          Did any of you take a moment and watch the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church preach at the Royal Wedding yesterday?
It was one of those events where the whole world stops to watch,
one of those times when a message can cut through the daily grind of this world and cut through the various bubbles we encase ourselves in,
the walls we erect to silo ourselves off from others, in moments like those cross sections of communities can still come together for a common purpose.
And, in such a moment as that, Bishop Curry preached about the Love of Jesus—we could argue he focused more on love than on Jesus, maybe even that he confused Law and Gospel, but compared to what many preachers would choose to do at such a moment of import, either showboating, or focusing on the bride’s beauty or the groom’s bravery,
he used that moment as an opportunity to tell folk about Jesus and his love.
          And friends, we are in a similar position to the good Bishop… Have you looked around your neighborhood? We live in both a time and place that is a great crossroad
—globalization and travel has put us in a spot, here in central Jersey, where representatives of the whole world have gathered to live
—it is perhaps not too unlike Jerusalem where Africa, Asia, and Europe meet together in the middle, where on a few special holy days—Pentecost being one of them—it seemed the whole world gathers together… and we too are in just such a time—how can we not tell them all the Truth we have been given about God?

          Yes, in these days, where our voices may be amplified by every gadget imaginable, we must lift every voice! Each of us is called to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
          Yes, you heard me—this isn’t a calling for Bishops only, or Pastors only and Deacons only, we are all called to preach the Gospel.
          One of the things I worried about when I started dating my girlfriend Lisa, was that she is a Quaker, and they don’t have clergy, and I thought that might be kinda weird, being that I’m clergy, right… But when we got talking about it, her description of this choice really struck me. It is not that they eliminated the clergy, but instead that they eliminated the laity. We Lutherans talk about this way of being Christian! The Priesthood of All Believers—well the Quakers just worked that idea out differently than we did.
We are all called to preach the Gospel, not just Pastors or Bishops or any other official, but all of us, in a myriad of ways, as compelled by the Spirit!

The Gospel, that God’s love has come into the world, that God has acted for us before we ourselves could act.
          That God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, lived, died, and rose, that we might trust in him and live eternally… that is the Gospel we are compelled to preach!
         
          Have you ever looked around and noticed the state of the church, or looked inside yourself and seen your soul, or listened for the soundless groanings of the world—all of it, all of us, yearning for the love of God found in Christ Jesus.
          All of it confronted by the Gospel, confronted by the rightness of creation—and confronted too by the world as it is… from Texas to Gaza to an overturned school bus north of us on 80…
ought and is swirling past one another in stirring acrobatic form and never catching, and all the earth wonders, “Can we get there from here? Can we get from Is to Ought?”

          Have you not noticed as well the tension in all those things, what Paul describes as the tension between Flesh and Spirit…
          That we find ourselves to be justified sinners, Flesh and Spirit
          That we find in this group gathered together a mixed body, Flesh and Spirit
That we find the goodness of the world promised to us to be already complete and whole… and at the same time not yet finished, Flesh and Spirit

We answer the question again and again, “No… we can’t get there from here… we can’t get there from here save through the Spirit!
Daily the Spirit drags us to the Jordon River to be with Christ, reminds us of the gap between ought and is, helps us to pray when we have no words, cultivates her fruits within us, calls us to be little Christs in the world even as the Spirit calls us to point to the one and only Jesus Christ and renews our trust in him daily.



Siblings in Christ, after I send you out of worship today, we will be eating fruity desserts, as we consider the Fruits of the Spirit. I ask you to consider the following questions as you eat and talk—after all the Spirit doesn’t just preach the Gospel out of my mouth, right?:
1.     How did the Spirit allow me to first believe, how does it continue to do the same in my life?
2.     Who might the Spirit be calling me to tell about Jesus and his love?
3.     Where do I see a tension between what ought to be and what is? In myself or in the wider world?
4.     Where does the world especially need the good new of Jesus Christ?
5.     What fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—are most needed today? Why?

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Sermon: Jesus Prayed For Us


              Scripture describes God’s relationship to God’s people…
people…
messy people like you and like me.
              Sometimes we forget that, we forget that the Bible reports fallible people being loved by a persistent God. We so easily miss the humanness of things.
These people working out God’s desire that we might be one as Father and Son are one,
working out the Spirit’s holy calling to love one another,
working out the strange reality of belonging to God and being in the World.
              I imagine many of the experiences of the early church, feel more like the experiences of the present church, than we would like to allow.
Prayer
              I imagine we separate out and sacralize the experiences of the early church—distancing them from our own lives, because doing so is easier than hearing how those experiences might hit home.
Might tickle our ears—echo and mirror our own realities today.

              Imagine what Peter is going through here in the first chapter of Acts.
              Imagine what those 120 people are saying to him:
              “Pastor Peter! Pastor Peter! We feel so betrayed by Judas—we thought he was one of us… we thought he would lead us with the 11.
              “Pastor Peter! Pastor Peter! Jesus has ascended and has promised the Spirit. What now? How will we know when the Spirit is acting? Is it already active? Why do we keep WAITING and PRAYING… we need to DO something!
              “Pastor Peter! Pastor Peter! Judas is dead! I mean, we didn’t particularly like ‘em, but he’s dead. Look at his empty seat, there is a hole where he used to be, we’re not whole anymore! Do something!
              “Pastor Peter! Pastor Peter! That empty spot is killing us! It feels like everything is unraveling… how can we continue? Will there even be a church in a few years?”

              Poor Peter. He does what he can, everyone prays together, scour the scriptures until they shine. And then, in his coffee induced delirium he lifts up a chunk of psalm 69 and another chunk from psalm 108, the first is about the guilty being disinherited, the second is about appointing a new person to take the position of the guilty…
“AHAH!” Poor Peter says, “We need to replace Judas, so that there will be 12 again.”
              So, he recommends this to the 120 people gathered together—and they go for it… what do they got to lose?
              Despite there being both men and women who followed Jesus, who witnessed the resurrection
—the first witness to the resurrection, in fact,
Jesus’ own mother, in fact,
Both present there
—Peter grabs two men, and says, “Let’s choose one of these to replace Judas. Let’s cast lots.”
              And they do.
              And we never hear from either Justus or Matthias again.
              They fade away.

              Instead the Spirit comes and shakes everything up: Greeks, Eunuchs, Sorcerers, and Women all are moved into this community, to preach the Gospel, to become like the 12.
              More amazing still, a great persecutor of the Church, one as bad and dishonorable as Judas—Paul—fills that space left empty by Judas’ betrayal and death.
              Paul is grafted into this league of Apostles… like a wild branch grafted onto a tame tree
—he weighs so heavy that he splits open the tree, creating a branch so wide and green that no one knows what to do with it—not least Paul himself… (that’s why he writes so much, right!)
             
              I imagine Peter, in those quiet moments, at night unable to get to sleep, would ask himself, “How did we get here? What’s God up to? How have we got through all this, despite God acting in places, and ways, and with people, who the 12 apostles found impossible?”
              And I imagine too, he might, on one of those tired, questioning, contemplative nights, have an AHAH moment, find the answer that he should already have known:
              “Did I not eat with Jesus, and after supper, did he not pray, that:
The invisible God, the Great I AM, be made known in him, and him in us.
That Jesus protected us with a fierce motherly love despite being opposed by the world.
That we would testify to God’s goodness found in Christ Jesus.
That some would be set aside and sent to be little Christs in the world, for the sake of the world.”
“I suppose,” he would finish, “Jesus did pray for us, and Jesus’ prayers for his people are continually answered—not as his people might wish or expect, but as His Holy Spirit wills.”

              And here today, as you say, “Pastor, look at that empty seat where my friend once sat” and “My own grandchild has abandoned the church, it is a betrayal!”
Where our Bishop sees the present church as being in the midst of a great unraveling, where the yarn is lovingly preserved, that it might be re-used and made into something new and grand, the nature of which we have not yet seen!
Where our neighbors, and closest partner in ministry, Cross of Life, has voted to close their doors.
Where the ELCA, in a two-day period, has made history by electing our first and second female African-descent Bishops, first in Philly then in Madison, Wisconsin.
Here today, with peril and promise balanced upon a needle point
—like Peter and his crew, like the early church
—we act,
we pray
we dive into scripture,
and do the work of the Church as we most faithfully know how…

—but we also trust that Jesus prayed for us—we know not how or where the Spirit shall move, but she shall
—Jesus prayed for us and surely his prayers shall not fall upon deaf ears.
Jesus prayed for us—Unity, Witness, Sanctity, the great revealing of the I AM’s love for us and our participation in it…
—Jesus prayed for us!
Amen and Alleluia.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Job and Friends, in 3 acts

Job & Friends, in three acts
Act 1:
Job: Truly, in a million different ways, in the midst of all the suffering I’ve experienced, I wish I had never been born.
Eliphaz: Hold up? You’re Job, aren’t you? You teach Wisdom’s ways to people, you have been telling folk that if they are innocent they will not suffer, haven’t you? Now that you are suffering, you’re going to renege on that proposition?
Job: Dude! You are about to make it worse, just shut up. You’re not helping!
Eliphaz: No, Job, let me finish. You are a wise teacher, you know that the foolish are a danger to themselves and to their kids. Haven’t you taught that a fool’s children will be crushed, just as your children were crushed? This is your teaching, now you are experiencing it firsthand.
Job: Eliphaz, do you know why you aren’t helping? Because I didn’t ask for your help, let alone ask for your wrapped up in a bow explanations of human suffering.
Eliphaz: Job, chill! This suffering you are experiencing is just correction.
Job: I don’t think you get how painful God’s “correction” is, how horrible it is to have your children crushed!
Suffering is so strange, you experience the pain and the horror, but also the long boring bland moments, time elongating before you forever.
At this point I just want God to finish the job he started on ol’ Job here—kill me!
Eliphaz: Be of good cheer, my man. God will strengthen you! Surely you will recover!
Job: Why would I want to recover? To be strengthened by God? What would I have to look forward to?
Eliphaz: Like you said before this pity party of yours started, is it not right that we receive both good and bad from God? Good when you are good, and bad when you are bad.
Job: How does blaming the victim help the victim? Huh? I bet you’d kick an orphan while he’s down and think you’re doing the kid a favor!

Act 2:
Job: At this point, it feels like you all are just harassing me. So, let me say it plainly. God has wronged me and won’t answer for the wrong.
Heck, to me, God is an oppressive force, an army besieging me.
Everyone sees me as a stranger.
I’m sick! Why won’t you pity me?
God has struck me, shouldn’t that make you sad… or even afraid… you might be next!
Yet, perhaps… even in all this pain, someone will redeem me, someone will write down all these wrongs and represent me against all my accusers!
Don’t act like dispassionate scientists watching a frog getting cut up in a lab, you are next to be pithed! You will be unjustly punished just as I have been!

Zophar: You’re words shake me, friend, and I feel insulted.
It is my duty to respond as best I know how.
The wicked have a short life!
They will be ignored and forgotten!
This is because they followed the wrong path, they should have lived righteously instead of wickedly, but they didn’t, and are suffering for it!
God is sucking up all their unjust gains!
All that was taken wrongly is being taken back.
Heaven has exposed their guilt, and by extension, your own!

Job: Oh Lord! Just listen to me Zophar, please! Just close your damn mouth for a moment, tape it shut if you have to!
Look around at the world as it is, the wicked prosper! I don’t think you get what I’m saying.
You think I’m proscribing things, but I’m describing them, pointing out the way the world really is.
Don’t you get it, I’m with you, let the wicked burn! Punish the children of the wicked. May God never be late in punishing the wicked, make them suffer now! Because…
Because… have you noticed the existential truth of it all? The wicked die and so do the righteous, and guess what, they are both dead!
I truly understand your position, good people ought to be rewarded for their goodness, and bad people ought to be punished for their badness… but open a newspaper man! The wicked prosper, no one can stop them. Making dogmatic, declarative statements to the contrary does nothing… it certainly does not comfort the suffering!

Act 3:
Job: There is injustice everywhere, but God does not act.
Bildad: Surely that is not because God is weak… for God is, ultimately, all-powerful.
No one is pure before God.
Compared to God, humans are so small.
Job: Well! Aren’t you helping the hurting with such answers.
Bildad: Well, yeah, I am! Don’t you know that God’s power subdues even chaos and death!
God’s mighty acts are so loud we can barely hear a complete word about His wonder!
Job: If God is so powerful, why won’t he give me my day in court?
I really can’t in good conscience ask for anything else. I can’t claim to be wicked, that itself would be wicked. The only right thing would be for every horror I’ve experienced to be visited upon my enemies. God will only be just if he throws all that powerful weight you talk about against those who are against me... including you three.