Sunday, July 15, 2018

The First Letter to the Holy Ones

I write this letter to you as a follower and witness of Jesus Christ.
I write it to you the Holy Ones who continue in the faith of Jesus Christ.

Grace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus, the Anointed, the Christ.
          I have heard there is a practice among you of reflecting on what you are thankful for before you receive the Holy Meal. It is in that same vein that I write this letter to you—surely the letter to the Holy Ones in Ephesus was a letter of thanksgiving, so is this.

I thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us beyond measure.
I thank God, that in the beginning, before the beginning, Christ was with God, holy and perfect, beloved from the start, and we are found in that love too!
I thank God, that we are the Savior’s siblings—that gives God pleasure—to be Parent of an uncountable plethora of children!
I thank God, that we who were caged up by Sin with a big S, have been bought out and brought out of captivity by God’s Beloved Boy, forgiven for everything, every last fault, failure, and foible—because God is gracious, God is generous with all his gifts.
I thank God, that the unthinkable has been thought, the great mystery revealed, that not only are we found in Christ, all of creation, from the tiniest quark and string of matter out beyond the reach of the universe in all its iterations—all of it is being gathered in God’s loving arms.
I thank God, that through Christ, who is always our hope, you have been weaved into God’s will, and live to praise him!
I thank God, that you’ve heard the good news and that you trust Jesus.
I thank God, that you’ve been marked with the promised Holy Spirit, she is your adoption papers, pointing to your redemption, that you are God’s own people—such a thing glorifies God!

I thank God unceasingly for all of you holy ones, and I pray incessantly for you all. I pray that you might more completely know the Lord, that the eyes of your heart might be wide open and you will be awake to the fullness of faith, which is Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and rule.
I thank God that all who claim power: be they earthly rulers, -isms and ideologies of all sorts, fates, follies, habits, addictions, and even demons—that their kingdoms are done
—the Kingdom of God, the Rule of Heaven, is everywhere and always! We holy ones who gather together, who are Christ’s body, do we not pray, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done”? I thank God that it is and shall be so!
I thank God, for the life you now live, for at one time you were under the deadly powers of all those vicious things that defy God, but through God’s rich mercy and great love, even the death of Christ, you now live—raised with him, even seated with him, so all of creation might fully understand the extravagant kindness found in Christ.
I thank God, you are saved by grace through faith, not on account of your own gifts, but by the gift of God—our salvation is nothing less than the good work of Jesus Christ.

I thank God, that all dividing walls between peoples, all those doors slammed and locked, the clothe of our common humanity ripped in two—are bridged, unlocked, sewn back up—all those on the outside are brought in. We hopeless, godless strangers, all of us, are brought near by the blood of Christ.
I thank God that he is our peace!
I thank God that Christ has made two into one, and shattered all the walls that create hostility, all the laws that leave people out, he has fashioned a single new humanity out of our evil clangor and mess, making peace, reconciling irreconcilable people through the cross, putting to death hatred, animosity, and bitterness in his very body.
I thank God that we are no longer strangers and sojourners, but citizens with the saints and members of God’s household. I thank God for that household,
build upon the foundation of the earliest followers and witnesses to Jesus… Christ himself is the cornerstone and together we are growing and becoming a holy Temple in the Lord and a Holy Temple in which the Spirit of God dwells!
I thank God.

Friday, July 13, 2018

We’re Flattening Immigrants

The current immigration policy in the United States flattens immigrants. It does not make a distinction between different types of immigrants, lumping them all together “flattening” the complex ways people come to this country and the nuanced policies we had in place to deal with different types of people. It also flattens them in the sense of it squishes them, destroying their lives.
              I think of the Indonesian folk I’m connected to. It used to be their names were on a list of people whose presence in the US was, I’m going to use that word again, nuanced. As ethnically Chinese Christians they were in danger of persecution back home, so we invited them in to this country, gave them travel visas, then winked and nodded, asking them to come back every year to check in, but promised they’d be okay. For two decades they were on a list of people who overstayed their travel visa, but there was a footnote next to their name indicating that if they returned to their home country they would be in danger, so when ICE interacted with them they would not arrest them. Then the President’s executive order changed policy at the Department of Homeland Security, and soon all the footnotes on ICE’s list were gone—and so were these Indonesian fathers who left behind American kids here between the ages of 1 and 16. The list had been flattened, everyone was the same, flattened too were three families who now are without breadwinners and a church without some of their leaders.
              I think of these children being held in cages. They are forced to represent themselves in court. Yes, three and four year-olds representing themselves in court. Again, American immigration policy is flattening immigrants, squishing 3-year-olds and thirty-year-olds into the same category. Flattening, as well, these poor kids who are playing with elevator buttons and sitting on tables chewing on their toes, instead of answering questions that might protect them.
              I think of those soldiers serving in the US military in order to earn their citizenship, being deported. To be clear, there are US soldiers who have served two tours in Afghanistan who are being deported. Again, a flattening in which folk who served in uniform are seen as no different than civilians who have not; previous policies and promises are squished out and leak out as people who fought for our country are flattened by that same country.
              Current immigration policy in the US is ignoring the particular stories and situations of folk who come to this country.
It doesn’t matter if we promised you citizenship if you were a citizen soldier,
it doesn’t matter if you are three, you still need to be treated like an adult,
it doesn’t matter that you will be discriminated against and in grave danger if you return home you are out of here.
We’re ruining people’s lives. I can’t help but wonder, is it because the current administration is not capable of handling the complexity of actually governing and are simply governing on slogans or if they don’t understand American values and prefer blunt authoritarianism, or if they are simply cruel.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Sermon: A Declaration of Interdependence

A Declaration of Interdependence

This Wednesday we celebrated the signing of the Declaration of Independence 242 years ago. And I sometimes wonder if that founding document of our country is a little like the book of Genesis—most people don’t read past the first few lines, or in the case of the Declaration, the 2nd paragraph…
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--
          And then it goes on, outlining 27 grievances against Great Britain and King George (as Lutherans anything that doesn’t break 95 is child’s play, but Jefferson tried)… still, 27 reasons to insist upon independence…
the founders knew, as we seem not to today, that there was innately an obligation to explain ourselves to the rest of the world…
separation is a last resort,
splitting up an unwelcome action…
          We don’t always get that—it is easy to hear Independence, and assume it is innately good, that freedom from any obligation, responsibility, or relationship
is the natural order,
is the highest good,
is, I would even say, holy.
Yes, it is easy, as an American Christian, to idolize Independence even as our scriptures
Declare Inter-dependence.

          The siren song of independence disfigures our story as people of God…
          Imagine an independent minded Ezekiel—he is told to go to a rebellious nation,
 impudent and stubborn…
his response would simply be:
… “nope.”
He’d walk away from his calling from God, because it didn’t suit his fancy.
He’d say, “I’m out!” and be done with it and them and God.
          Or think of those people Paul is mocking in 2nd Corinthians chapters 11-13, sometimes called “Paul’s Fool Speech.”
He’s seen these Christians preaching:
-a message of power and self-promotion,
-a message that they alone have ascended to the highest heavens
-and they alone have touched the face of God and have come home to brag about it.
-They brag about their independence,
that they have cultivated their own virtue and it has grown into an armor impervious against any assault,
or any connection to their fellow Christians, or perhaps even to God!

          Or think of the rap Jesus has in his home town… everyone is disappointed because…
they know him
they know who he is connected to…
they know his relatives…
he didn’t show up out of no where, no past and no future like some Gun Slinger in a Western.
          Or take the novel The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby, the self-made man with no past who showed up in West Egg was exciting and intriguing,
his previous identity, James Gatz, the college drop out janitor from North Dakota—not so much…
 the only real difference between the two was that strange something
-radical independence,
-being sui generis
-completely unique…
that’s what they wanted of Jesus.
          Or think of the debunked science of Spontaneous Generation—believed to be hard proven fact from the time of Aristotle until the 1860’s…
it was assumed creatures like Eels and maggots, and even mice,
simply came into existence
—no parents
—independent of any predecessor…
          That’s what these folk in Jesus’ home town were looking for—a spontaneously generated savior… not the town’s favorite son.

          But at some point, they have to admit the truth… we all do,
it’s common ol’ Jesus
—it’s Jesus from the Block,
he’s the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon and his gaggle of sisters…
          There is a connection—Ezekiel connected with those stiff necked and stubborn people he preached to… and he is part of… he is one of!
          We have to examine that truth embedded in all of Paul’s talk of strength and weakness
—to be strong is to be self-contained, to be knit together when everything else is coming undone.
 But to be weak… to be weak is to be unraveling, to be coming undone along with everyone else…
to be interdependent with others, to not boast that everything is fine as everyone else suffers, because
in their suffering they find a savior,
in their unraveling there is then room for Jesus…
that’s worth boasting about
We are empty, yet in Christ we are full.

          Let us declare, along with Ezekiel and Jesus and the Disciples and Paul, our interdependence:
          There comes a time when dissolving band after band of connection no longer cuts it. The laws of nature and of God require that we affirm our union, one to another, we must point to the places is sacred scripture where common love, the promises of sisterhood and the bonds of brotherhood, are solidly spoken.
          We hold these truths close to our heart, that we are not separate one from another, that God our Creator has connected us and created us for relationship, vulnerability, and love.

          For only then, may we say with Ezekiel’s generation, “surely a prophet has come among us.”
          For only then, may our eyes stop looking passed our saviors siblings and see that “God Among Us” means among them as well.
          For only then, bereft of bag and bread, and billfold will we trod where our savior trod, serving our neighbor as our savior served, in the name of God.
          For only then, like Paul, may we unravel our self and allow vulnerability—isn’t vulnerability the pre-curser to love?
          For only then, can we call a thorn something more—isn’t there pain in love? Doesn’t wooing and being wooed do something to you?
          Only then, unraveling and being held together through Christ,
loving one another in the midst of it all,
that love I experience through the power of Christ made real in heartfelt feeling for those who also suffer.
          Only then, may we declare what God has already declared,

“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

Saturday, June 23, 2018

The Complete Book of Job (Abridged)

The Complete Book of Job (Abridged)
Act 1: Wisdom in the Balance
The wise, those who trust the book of Proverbs completely, and all that it affirms, say:
              Don’t you know, creation is set up to reward the good and the wise, and to punish the wicked and the fools…
Go either “the high way”—trust and obey the LORD, seek his path and you will find his favor!
Or “My Way”—Uphold only self, ignore God, be filled with pride, praising perversity and spreading lies—if you do so you will find only punishment!

To this the book of Ecclesiastes questions: “What if rewards aren’t as fulfilling as expected? What if our mortality makes the rewards of morality moot? (Never seen a hearse with a trailer hitch)
To this, today, the book of Job questions: “What if there is no discernable connection between reward and punishment?”

Act 2: The Test
Once upon a time, there was a man named Job, the best of men—Wise and Good, and blessed for it. (Exit pulpit)

Inspector: Let me test this theory, let me question this system of rewards and punishments—after all, are folk good on account of goodness, or good because they know they’ll be rewarded?
-Let us strike down Job’s children and wealth—does he fold?
Hmmm, lets go further still, let us take his health and make his spouse forsake him…
-Look he holds on even without any reward…

-Oh look, his wise friends, they sit with him, and say nothing… \
…thank God, sometimes people hurting, as Job hurts, need silence, just being with them and nothing more, the wisest thing possible, a ministry of presence.

Act 3: The Worst Friends Ever

Scene 1: Eliphaz
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 explanation of human suffering wrapped up in a bow.
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, isn’t it 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!

Scene 2: Zophar
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!

Scene 3: Bildad
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.

Act 4: Wisdom and an Absent God
Scene 1: Wisdom’s Soliloquy
Where is Wisdom found?
You can find fruits in trees,
You can dig and find gold and silver and fossils
Heck, you can find anything on Google!
But where is Wisdom found?

You can cheat death or on your taxes,
You can get through a war zone or escape a prison,
You can sell high and buy low,
But where can Wisdom be found?

Look at Job there, he has lost everything,
Any earthly wisdom gained by experience,
He’s earned… and more…
But Wisdom, it is only found in God
—only found when we are struck by awe,
By the Fear of the Lord.
When we come face to face with the living God, and live anew afterwards!

Scene 2: Enter Elihu
I may be young, but I’m going to tell it like it is…
Look at all of you—wise friends, you need to press home your attack, make Job pay! Anything short of that, you’re just as bad as him!
Look at all of you—Job, you need to shove it and shut up before you make things worse for yourself.
Do you really think God will show up for you? Who are you, royalty? A princess or president? No, you’re just some guy!
You don’t want God to speak to you—God’s only voice this side of the void is nightmares and misfortunes.
What does God have to do with humans? Its like an ant negotiating with a magnifying glass on a hot day—it ain’t gonna end wel for the ant.
Just surrender Job, I’ll fix your problems for you—don’t take it up with the guy up stairs and all your problems will go away….
No, really, just take it all back, you know God only hurts the guilty… you know that your guilt is hurting everyone, not just you… think of that wife of yours! Your kids!
Okay, I’m only going to say it one more time, Job… God is awesome, righteous, and inaccessible, there is no way you will get an audience, the LORD will not answer you, so buzz off.

Act 4: God’s Response
And after Elihu affirmed that the LORD would not answer Job, the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind (and you can read along here):
"Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements--surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?
"Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb?--when I made the clouds its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed bounds for it, and set bars and doors, and said, 'Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stopped'?”

              I suppose you know how to keep gravity constant? I suppose you can ensure that the conditions needed to support life here on earth will continue? You’re going to make sure the ozone doesn’t catch on fire, right?
              Or look up into the vast expanse. What do you know about the Winds of Venus or the atmosphere of Pluto? Can you squish together a million earths and create the sun? Have you heard the silence of space?
              Oh, Job, what do you really know about the world around you? Did you know that a shirmp’s heart is located in its head? That koala’s have fingerprints indistinguishable from humans? That Elephants are the only animal that can’t jump?
              Job, come on then, take over for me…
hold back entropy, continue to energize all of things the that wish to break down
help humans choose peace in the face of war
help them care for each other, when it is so much easier for them to be indifferent.

Job:      I repent! I repent…  But also, I repent of repenting, I throw dust upon dust and ash upon ash

Act 6: It is a Wonderful Life
              With that God turned to Job’s three friends, “As for you! Your Reward/Punishment style of Wisdom, is wrong, look to your friend Job, in his suffering he spoke rightly. Sacrifice, and ask Job, who was right, to pray for you.”

              And with that the three friends repented of their sins and Job interceded for them.
              And Job received back all those things that he had lost, double in fact,
double wealth, double health, and double family.
              And they lived happily ever after.

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?

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!

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